Album review: Front Line Assembly - Mechanical Soul

Updated: Jan 24


Front Line Assembly have long since been part of the strongest foundations of Industrial having been making music since the 80's; With this latest release FLA prove that they are just as strong as ever.

I will admit that the old school generation of industrial is ironically still quite new to me. When I started Elektro Vox I was listening to industrial and aggrotech bands from the last 15 years that were more akin to dance floor raves than the slower, grittier talent that came before them; So FLA is not a band I am all too familiar with but none the less this album has made a fan out of me, that much is certain.

I think that's an important aspect for bands, the ability to draw in new fans from different generations and backgrounds, and not just survive through a very select few original listeners.

The Canadian industrial outfit Front Line Assembly have been fearlessly pushing the boundaries of that musical description for more than three decades, exploring all manner of styles and influences since forming as a purely electronic based concern in the mid-80s. Helmed by founder Bill Leeb with long-time cohort Rhys Fulber, the legendary Vancouver based act have just released the brand new album entitled ‘Mechanical Soul’ on 15th January 2021. A masterful work from one of the greats of the genre, it can be seen as the zenith of the duo’s artistic endeavours together. The album also includes guest appearances from Jean-Luc De Meyer of Front 242 (on ‘Barbarians’) and Dino Cazares of Fear Factory (on ‘Stifle’).

Produced by Bill Leeb and Rhys Fulber

Mastered by Greg Reely

Album design and illustration by Dave McKean Metropolis records

Review

'Purge' has that electronic edge that follows the modern popularity of cyberpunk. There is no escaping it from the popularity of the style, to modern games, films, and the crumbling world around us, cyber punk IS NOW. It keeps the tempo down enough to keep the original FLA feel to it however and it really feels like a narrator's introduction in terms of lyrics and ambient mood setting of a world at war.


'Glass and Leather' picks the energy up a few notches, like the first rush of intoxication whilst you're on a stomping club dance floor lost amongst the rhythm and the darkness; The fact the song's first lyric is.. "I'm driving naked, I'm driving naked, I'm driving naked in my car" Certainly adds to that visualisation. The beat and sounds used are so perfectly punctuated by the sighs and gasps placed amongst the verses. If I had a playlist for the bedroom, this would be on it, that's for sure!


In 'Unknown' we hear some very strange mechanical and otherworldly sounds, when watching the fan music video, it's easy to realise why. The world is at war, and there is a resistance doing what they can. This has all the hallmarks of some damn good old school EBM, the gritty vocals, the bass heavy beats, a distorted chorus, dance worth synths, and a scary dystopia. There is nothing not to like about this track.. Even with the amusing "Huuaah" Exasperation at one point haha!

'Unknown' Mindphaser fan music video

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We are taken on a stellar like voyage with the slower, peaceful 'New World', which is a real contrast to 'Rubber tube gag' because as the title would imply, it sets the mood for a darkened fetish club with some very heavy emotion hidden amongst the lyrics.


When it comes to the heavy riffs of 'Stifle' it's good to know I was on track when I mentioned Cyberpunk before because I stumbled upon this answer in an interview with soundscape magazine at the same time as getting the above music video..

The song Stifle was originally part of the sessions I did for the Cyberpunk 2077 video game. I contributed tracks for the soundtrack and this was one that did not get used. I played it for Bill and he liked it. [Bill] wrote the lyrics and the song took on new life. He suggested we get some guitar stabs on it so I called Dino from Fear Factory who did his thing and it all fell into place. - Rhys Fulber

Which brings us to 'Alone', a track that creates a cave dive into the depth of human emotion and mental health. It envisions a hopeless despair with a beat tempo that magnifies that feeling.

By itself the track didn't stand out to me but after watching this brilliantly made fan music video that follows a soldier's exploration of a destroyed city, it adds many more layers of meaning and enjoyment for me.


'Alone' Mindphaser fan video


'Barbarians' feels like a further delve in to rich tales told by a sci-fi version of a bard; and 'Komm, Stirbt Mit Mir' resurrects that oh so familiar and classic 90's industrial dance floor vibe that is still as vibrant and enjoyable as it ever was.

'Time Lapse' puts me in the mind of everything we have lost over the past couple of years and yet everything that still could be lost, it is a nostalgic and yet defiant piece of music that cools the main album down and gives the listener time to reflect on all they just heard.

Finally 'Hatevol (Black Asteroid Mix)' pounds out a solid encore at first but then goes silent for around 30 seconds followed by an injection of nostalgia to send you on your way.


Tracklist

+ Featured instrument per track


1.Purge Elektron Analog Rytm mk2

2.Glass and Leather

Studio Electronics Omega

3.Unknown

Roland Alpha Juno 2

4.New World

Mutable Instruments Shruthi

5.Rubber Tube Gag

Waldorf Pulse+

6.Stifle

Noise Engineering Basimilus Iteritas, Ormsby DC7

7.Alone

Moog Model 15 reissue

8.Barbarians

Mutable Instruments Clouds

9.Komm, Stirbt Mit Mir

Waldorf Q+

10.Time Lapse

Doepfer A100

11.Hatevol (Black Asteroid Mix)


Conclusion


This album has many complex layers to it, from the instruments to the lyrics, the emotions, the originality, but also the crucial signature sound that has made Front Line Assembly enjoy such widespread fandom.

When a band has been going this long and can still put out new and genuinely interesting music, you know there is a lot of genius going on behind the scenes.

FLA have once again proven themselves to be a lighthouse shining the way in to the future for bands both old and new.


Scores


Technicality: 8.5/10

Dance factor: 7.5/10

Energy: 8/10

Vocals: 7/10

Re-playability: 8/10

Overall score: 7.8 / 10

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