Electronic Substance Abuse (ESA) are among a short list of modern industrial acts that are consistently great, particularly with their most recent releases Burial 10, Eat Their Young / The Scorn EP, and the single “I Detach” coming within the last two years. Between the concussive snares, the powerful production, and the wide range of vocals – whether they’re provided by mastermind Jamie Blacker or by guests such as Caitlin Stokes of Corlyx – ESA is a project that rarely, if ever, misses.
It is with this sort of reputation that the project sets forth its most recent studio effort, Designer Carnage, released on Negative Gain Productions on Valentine’s Day. Using buzzwords and phrases such as “modern decadence” and “be the envy of your peers,” the marketing for this album is on-the-nose anticonsumerism done ESA style. As part of the pre-orders for the record, they offered ESANCE, a line of cosmetics and wellness products that will shock your system and lead you into the new year looking and feeling your best, price tags be damned.
ESA might best be described as “progressive industrial,” insofar as the influences and the backbone of the album may change from track to track, or even multiple times within a track. This album’s opener, “Laudanum Dance,” is a prime example of this. It starts off with a build towards an aggressive, “sweep the premises” tone. The first half of this eight-minute saga feels like a nod to The Prodigy and the grungiest of UK house, before giving way to a dizzying piano solo by Frederic Scarfone. By minute six, we get a marching, stomping beat that lets the power this opening track has carry on through the ending.
We then get a dance floor destroyer in “One Missed Call,” whose first round of vocals come from a sampled voicemail from a very disgruntled woman. On one hand, there is something to be said here about “anything you say can and will be used against you,” particularly with the lines:
“This is a message to stop you from getting far
Because no-one knows what I know and you’ll never be a star.“
It’s a damn fun track, and it’s no secret why it was one of the tracks released ahead of the full record.
Then we get to the powerful, wub-heavy “I Detach,” which we got as a single last May. The jazzy little interlude might be a bit of whiplash for those unprepared, but it does help break things up with this limb-ripper of a track. The title track comes next, and if Jamie doesn’t play “I Detach” followed by this, I don’t know what he’s doing. These two songs are the perfect one-two punch and compliment each other so well.
“Disruption Only” stands out for a few reasons, namely the symphonic and orchestral elements. The tempo gets turned up, but the three-note melody keeps things in EBM territory, albeit with a twist. It is a simple number, but it makes seven minutes (6:49, to be exact) feel like nothing. During the next song, “Come and Find Me,” I came to realize why there were so many big band, jazz-type moments in this album. Designer Carnage has a theme of advertisement, of unabashed entrepreneurship, and back in the day, commercials, especially radio or television, were whimsical while also a bit insidious. It is in this aggressive marketing (the industrial/EBM elements), paired with the whimsy (the big band interludes) where we get the duality of advertising.
Or maybe Jamie just makes good goddamn music and I’m reading into things too much.
“Hyena” is classic ESA, with aggressive percussive elements and an overall tone that will turn a ravegoer’s brain to mush in the most fun way possible. This is perhaps the most club-friendly song on the record next to “I Detach.” “Whom Then Shall I Fear?” features the lyrical flow of Pee Wee Pimpin, and man, does his voice do something for this track. His flow is smooth, the low voice almost chanting over the production. It’s swagger but not to the point of self-parody. It’s aggressive to the point of believability. Burial 10 had its share of industrial hip-hop moments, but Designer Carnage has a hell of one with this track.
“Vast Accept” is purely hypnotic, the kind of track to put on and lose oneself to. The staccato strings and the glimmering synths over a pounding bass make for a dream of a song. The album’s closer “Saturnalia” may divide some folks, as it leans back on Blacker’s roots in the extreme metal scene. If you like the idea of industrial black metal (and lord knows I do), you’re going to love it. The first minute plus is blast beat o’clock, while things go in a more electro direction as the track progresses, all the way to an acoustic interlude around the halfway mark. We circle back to the black metal beginnings of the track as the curtain falls on this epic, spanning closer.
Is this Jamie throwing everything at the wall and seeing what sticks? If so, very little is falling off.
Surround thyself in only the finest of Designer Carnage by streaming and/or purchasing the album: