I've been following the twisted works of Andy LaPlegua's extreme electro band Combichrist for a few years now, especially since he stepped up the their game with the excellent 2009 release Today We Are All Demons. That challenging but powerfully catchy album pushed Combichrist further into the public arena, thanks in part to the hit single Sent To Destroy – which scored the band's longest and highest placement on Billboard's Top Singles and Dance Charts (#8 and #5 respectively for nearly ten weeks), and led to a dystopian-themed music video featuring FEARnet fave Bill Moseley.
This year, Andy and his crew have taken that record's roof-raising cyber beats and twisted sex & violence vibe into darker, stranger and more threatening directions with their appropriately titled follow-up Making Monsters – which makes its digital debut this week from Metropolis. Keep reading to find out what manner of monsters Andy and company have wrought...
The first buzz I'd heard ahead of this release mostly concerned how LaPlegua has significantly darkened the CC sound from the muscular, roaring aggro-tech that formed the basis of the band's first four albums. The end result of this evolution is no less powerful than its predecessors, but definitely comes across as scarier and more unsettling, with fewer anarchic dance-floor anthems and more emphasis on brooding, menacing tracks. The darker perspective is reportedly the result of a soul-baring creative period that LaPlegua experienced while writing the album, fashioning songs that he's described as “extremely honest,” unleashing Andy's own electronic Monster from the Id.
The album's dark, menacing tone comes through in the very first seconds of the opening instrumental Declamation – which forms a cinematic prologue to a dark tale of violence, perversion and horror. It's one of several pieces that put more emphasis on mood than club compatibility; also in this mode include is Forgotten, a dark ambient slice of slasher-flick atmosphere (complete with shrill distant screams) that creeps along on all fours to a slow, gritty rhythm.
But before you start fretting that Combichrist has turned to electronic navel-gazing, there's plenty of hard & heavy beat action in this project. The first single Never Surrender is a perfect example, opening in creeping terror tones and classic bouncy buzz beats, but down-tuned to a lower range, with a caustic metal-influenced lyrical delivery from LaPlegua that ranks among his most brutal work. And speaking of metal: Follow the Trail of Blood benefits from the vocal contributions of Bleeding Through's Brendan Schiepatti, who punches through the cold steel of familiar sawtooth synths and cranks the tune to a state of desperate madness.
There are still a few solid club-rocking anthems here, including the dramatically loaded Just Like Me, which kicks a familiar child's tune to the ground in favor of a ruthless post-punk rant from LaPlegua, who skilfully delivers the album's sardonic central theme: “We're making monsters/Monsters with no free will/Just copies with the urge to kill... Deep inside you're just like me/And it's killing you.” They is another club-friendly heavy hitter, with a chunky bass line, silky Euro-style synth leads and a brooding spoken/sung lyric delivery, while Throat Full of Glass offers a more down-tempo stomper with minimalist instrumentation and cleaner vocals. Slave to Machine grinds with industrial urgency, filled with clubby synth leads and vocoder touches, but tends to fall flat by comparison with the rest.
There's a share of experimental and quirky tracks as well, including Monster:Murder:Kill – a simple but fun diversion, featuring synthetic vocals creating the impression of a team of killer robots bursting into the studio to show the human musicians how it's done (just before killing them, of course). It's no surprise that a track called Fuckmachine presents plenty of challenges, as its caustic synth arpeggios and thick clouds of delay-saturated blips and grunts can't conceal mega-sleazy lyrics that sound for all the world like the journal entries of a violent sexual predator. Needless to say this one might get some attention if you jack this one up with the car windows rolled down.
The darker, more somber tone I mentioned earlier comes across fully on tracks like Through These Eyes of Pain, which presents the shadow side of LaPlegua's sonic assault and a similar feel to the title track from Today We Are All Demons, laying Andy's voice clean and bare before a simple, lightly chattering synth line; the closing track Reclamation has an early Nine Inch Nails flavor, with an epic sweep and some of the lowest, most smoldering lead synths I've heard from the band in a while. It compliments Andy's semi-whispered vocals, which make lyrics like “I seek control” ooze with malicious confidence.
LaPlegua had once described the previous album as the ultimate realization of the Combichrist sound, and that kind of statement can haunt an artist when they move on to the next record... but I expect inventive and daring moves from this band, and Making Monsters still finds ways to surprise me, especially since Andy decided to paint with a darker, more subtle palette this time around. It's a savvy move and I hope the fans looking for more club-centric cuts will still give these slower, moodier and more doom-filled grooves a chance to worm their way into their brains. Mean, angsty and aggressive is one thing, but when you add dark and sinister to the mix, you've birthed a dangerous beast.
While the physical CD of Making Monsters is slated for release on September 28th, you can download the digital album tomorrow at all the usual places, including the Metropolis Records website.