Album Reviews

Front Line Assembly – Civilization

(Synthetic Symphony) UK release date: 9 February 2004

Front Line Assembly - Civilisation Front Line Assembly consists of Vancouver duo Bill Leeb and Rhys Fulber, otherwise known as Delerium, Intermix and Noise Unit. As if four bands weren’t enough to keep them busy (releasing more than 25 albums in the last 10 years) they also work with bands like Cyberaktif and Will, and do remixes for Fear Factory

While Delerium is classed as ambient and Intermix veers towards dance, Front Line Assembly is industrial electronica with a vengeance, and the new album Civilization is created almost entirely on a sampler. That’s not to say there aren’t occasional elements of both ambient and dance within its tracks – in fact the whole album is so multi-layered it becomes almost overwhelming in its diversity of sounds.

Heavier than Einstürzende Neubauten (who also release a new album this week), more playful than Laibach, Front Line Assembly is, if nothing else, a welcome escape from the trivia of manufactured pap.

The lasting impression is dark, moody and deeply pessimistic. It’s music to slit your wrists to even before the chorus of “why don’t you kill yourself” on Schicksal – when delivered in hypnotic repetition I suspect this could be classed as an offensive weapon, especially for a listener who happens to have indulged in something mood-altering.

But enough of the nanny state attitude, there is some fascinating listening here if you can take the gloom. The urban nightmare of Maniacal – released as a single in 2003 – is the heaviest of the tracks, but even this has a surprising breathy interlude of what sound like pan pipes breaking up the industrial beat, staccato vocals and bleak lyrics. “The cloud starts to rise / There is no surprise / We all start to burn / When will we learn”… well, I did say it wasn’t exactly cheery stuff.

Fragmented is the most interesting sound collage. Spoken voice loops, serene vocals used as an instrument, basic beats and nifty synth almost turn into a recognisable “song” at one point, then transmute into dance electronica. So far so normal, but the real surprise is the introduction of Vivaldi-style classical string chords leading to an idyllic close. Maybe there’s hope in this uncompromising landscape after all.

The title track is rather wonderful too. A long intro of calm ocean effects, gentle synths and newscast vocal loops lulls one into a false sense of security before the beat kicks in and with it, the doom-laden chorus – “Eradicate exterminate / All species from the earth / In the name of progress / we call peace”. The overall impression, though, is a glorious wall of sound.

Most hopeful of all is Transmitter (Come Together), in which a choppy metal beat is overlaid by a wistful vocal line and strings. Despite the lyrics speaking of war dances, the track ends with an angelic chorus. Oh dear, maybe I’m being overly optimistic – perhaps we’re all supposed to be dead… whatever, it’s one of the standout tracks. Another is Vanished, which again uses the considerable vocal talents of Leah Randi, this time against a backdrop of echoing, distorted gunshots.

Those with gothic tendencies will love this album. Others should keep a back-up CD of Kylie for emergency resuscitation use.

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Front Line Assembly – Civilization