Founded in the mid-'80s by industrial music pioneer Bill Leeb, Front Line Assembly (call 'em FLA for short) has always served as the soundtrack to a dark future of cyberpunk menace and death-dealing machines, so it's no stretch at all to imagine the band composing the music to an action-packed dystopian video game. I'm actually surprised it's taken so long for that marriage to happen, but thankfully it has, and to great success, with their recent involvement in Carbon Games' free-to-play real time strategy game AirMech. Now the game soundtrack has been been given the full studio treatment, and the experience reaches beyond the music itself to include new content that enhances the gaming experience.
If you're unfamiliar with AirMech and the whole “free-to-play” concept, it's a pretty cool idea, offering a free downloadable multi-platform game in which players can choose to support the developers by purchasing upgrades and enhancements, while game play is essentially the same even if you don't pitch in. FLA's music accompanies in-game action and menus, but the band members (including Leeb, keyboardists Jason Filipchuk & Jeremy Inkel and guitarist Jared “j-rod” Slingerland), also make virtual appearances as unique characters and pilot a custom Mech packing sound-based artillery (an awesome idea), which anyone who buys the soundtrack can access.
"The first thing I thought of was trying to get music that sounded like Front Line Assembly,” says Carbon Games director James Green. “I figured I should at least try and contact the band on the off chance they would be interested in talking with us," says James Green, Game Director at Seattle-based Carbon Games, who found the band totally open to the project. "When they started asking about if they could be in the game and have some crazy sonic weapons, I knew it was the start of something really fun."
Now let's get down to the music: while it's entirely instrumental, the twelve-track AirMech album follows through in some ways from the band's previous earth-shaking album Improvised. Electronic. Device (read our review of that album here), which for me represented some of their strongest material in the past two decades. But the real departure on AirMech is the introduction of orchestral elements, something the band only incorporated only loosely in the past, and then in a more experimental way. In fact, the title track, “Death Level” and the ethereal "Everything That Was Before" aim for – and mostly reach – the kid of scope and grandeur that Daft Punk hit dead on with their score for Tron: Legacy. If you're a fan of that soundtrack (I keep it in near-constant playlist rotation, so you know where I stand), you'll find a lot of cool parallels here, especially in terms of production value and cinematic scale. Twisted bass effects charge up tracks like “Arise” and "Prep for Combat" while glitchy electro percussion sets the eerie tone for "Pulse Charge” and "Burning Skyline.” Dark ambient drones fill the soundspace in cues like “Mech Killer” and “Lose,” often to lay a platform for dramatic explosions of heavy beat and buzzy bass drops, but sometimes to create a more trancelike vibe in "Prime Empiricism.” Tracks like "System Anomaly" also pack rock-solid dance beats, along the lines of electro-rockers like Celldweller, but due to the dynamics of the game, most of the cues change pace and tone too often to be consistently club-friendly... which wasn't the intention anyway, but FLA certainly know how to lay down a beat.
Even for non-gamers, AirMech is a definite keeper for FLA fans and anyone who grooves on dark, violent and cinematic-scale industrial & EBM... hell, it might even be a gateway to curious would-be players (the game's free, after all). To get a sense of the scope of these tracks, here's a sampler from the AirMech soundtrack, which is now available through Metropolis Records.