Industrial icons Front Line Assembly, under the command of genre legend Bill Leeb, are veteran explorers of dark futuristic terrain – as evidenced last year with their epic soundtrack for Carbon Games' AirMech (read our review here). After that project, the band focused on an even more chilling fantasy landscape entirely of their own creation, in the form of their latest studio album Echogenetic, which makes its debut today via Metropolis Records. It also marks a return to the band's earlier all-synth phase, losing the industrial-metal riffage that had become an integral part of their sound over the past several albums through 2010's Improvised. Electronic. Device. In some ways Echogenetic recalls the band's classic album Tactical Neural Implant not only in its technique, but in its harsh, frightening tone.
Also, with the infusion of new talent into the FLA team (Leeb is the sole founding member, with returning players Jeremy Inkel and Jared Slingerland from Left Spine Down joined here by Sasha Kevil and Craig Johnsen), the band has folded some very familiar modern elements into the mix. I'm not saying Leeb has suddenly gone all Skrillex on us, but current EDM techniques are evident on cuts like "Killing Grounds” and the title track in particular. When you get right down to it, current electronic dance music owes a heavy debt to the fat bass, glitch and sample-heavy breakbeats of Leeb and his '80s & '90s peers; in a way, many elements of Echogenetic represent the genre's modern face gazing back at its gritty, experimental past to discover that the old school can kick its ass – even within a single track, as demonstrated in the aforementioned "Killing Grounds,” a violent collision of old and new styles that brings maximum chaos and actually works really damn well, with Leeb's overdriven vocals and a gargantuan bass line holding the whole shuddering mass together.
When it's time for the band to snap fully into classic mode, they bring the heaviest weaponry to bear on tracks like "Deadened" and “Heartquake,” pushing synths to their limits while tearing down and reconfiguring sounds (including vocals, heavily pitch-treated here) into nightmarish forms, in the true spirit of industrial music. Their dense and complex song structures come through best in the hard-stomping beat and moody chorus synth washes of "Exhale," the shifting tones of the down-tempo “Exo” and the wildly lurching and straight-up terrifying cut "Leveled." While there's a stronger focus on four-by-four beats and less on dramatic atmospheres, a lot of the sweeping, adventurous vibe we heard on AirMech comes across in the instrumentals "Resonance" and “Prototype,” and a similar haunting vibe infuses two intense mid-tempo tracks: “Blood” and "Ghosts," the latter of which also packs one of the mightiest bass lines on the album.
Front Line Assembly have always been expert at disassembling familiar components of electronic music and refitting them into strange, mutant forms. Echogenetic proves they've still got mad science skills in that department, and they even manage to storm the modern EDM deck and fuse the best of old and new worlds with hardly a misstep. Echogenetic proves how FLA's style has always been distinctive, even as new elements are introduced from one album to the next. No doubt the landscape of electronic music will have changed yet again when Leeb and company return with their next effort, and I'm already eager to hear them put their indelible stamp on it.