Review of Front Line Assembly, Mechanical Soul

by Adrian Halo

It seems that every Front Line Assembly album hits closer and closer to home with their themes of cold, eerie dystopia and isolation. This one in particular feels brutally apt, almost prophetic, given the pandemic and the turmoil it caused around the world in 2020. For example, in the opening track “Purge,” Bill Leeb’s trademark Vocoded growl warns us that “ the war has begun/we all need guns.” The desolate brassy synths in the chorus instantly takes us back to the band’s roots circa Gashed Senses & Crossfire or perhaps Tactical Neural Implant. The swirling, atmospheric  intro to “Glass And Leather” turns abruptly to a gritty four-on-the-floor kick and a stuttering lead synth. The hi-hat rhythms and sampled vocals in the background add sort of retro, glitchy electro vibe which, combined with Leeb’s rasping vocals, makes for an interesting contrast. The dystopian theme continues on “Unknown,” which has all the makings of a classic FLA anthem, capturing a feeling of hopelessness that feels all too timely, such as the chorus: “Thinking about tomorrow/lost and forgotten sorrows/new horizons come and go” asking, “Do we live forever? In the future we call never?” The epic chorus builds up beautifully with swelling synth pads and stacked layers of vocals, raising goosebumps on one’s arms. 

There are a couple of notable collaborations on Mechanical Soul as well. The guitar on “Stifle” courtesy of Fear Factory’s Dino Cazares, adds a driving, quintessential industrial rhythm to a lurching, grinding track which was originally composed for the Cyberpunk 2077 soundtrack. I don’t have the first clue as to why it was rejected, as it anchors the album and provides a sort of intermission, a sonic checkpoint between the songs which flow so easily from one to the next. Another major standout is “Barbarians,” which features Front 242/C-Tec vocalist Jean-Luc DeMeyer. While it’s actually a rework of “Future Fail” from the 2006 album Artificial Soldier, the slower pace and DeMeyer’s authoritative yet soulful vocals take it in a totally different direction.

We even get to hear Bill Leeb speaking German in “Komm, stirbt mit mir” (Translation: “Come, die with me”) which will most definitely put a smile on the faces of the most hardcore old-school rivetheads. (Or at least, since we rarely smile, maybe we’ll want to stomp around to this one in a dark club someday…) And last but certainly not least on the album is the Black Asteroid remix of “Hatevol”. The noise/dark techno project of Bryan Black, the mix is as brutal as it is precise; make sure your subwoofers are hooked up for this one. 

Mechanical Soul marks a return to form for Front Line Assembly. As much as their sound is so instantly recognizable no matter how their style may shift slightly from one album to the next, this album feels strongly inspired by their own history and their “classics” in a way that achieves a compelling sense of timelessness. 

Buy the album on Bandcamp here.

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