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.

Giant Waves/Karluv Tyn, Pilgrims of Yearning, Navigator Project, and Monoplan

Giant Waves/Karluv Tyn

Giant Waves is a gothic post-punk/darkwave group formed in 2004. Originally formed under the name The Imaginary Stigma, they claim to be one of the “oldest groups in Russia” in the genre. Through their decade of existence, they have worked with legendary bands such as Skeletal Family and toured with Soviet Soviet. They currently are signed by Sierpen Records, which also boasts Molchat Doma.

Their newest release in 2020 was “Мерцание,” put out under their side-project Karluv Tyn (fun fact- they took this name from that of a twelfth century gothic castle). They describe the album’s music as “cold-pop” or Russian “apocalyptic-pop.” The Intro track has the sounds of church bells and choir, definitely a reference to their name inspiration. The album manages to be dark without being too overbearing or heavy. An upbeat rhythm, clear vocals, chorus-y guitar, and smooth synths all blend together to make something mid-energy and perfect for light, casual listening.

Its members are Iliya Volchansky (voice, guitar, synths, lyrics), Andy ‘Avalanche’ Fomin (synths, drums), and Michael Kirilenko (recording, engineering).

A new Giant Waves release in the works. If all goes according to plan, expect to see this upcoming single in the next two months. Additionally, they are making a video for the song “Love is a Lie”. Finally, there will even potentially be a new album put out halfway through the year.

Producer and artist Vitaly Sanych reports that they have changed their sound slightly, citing both hardships in the local music scene and a desire to continue developing their style.

Pilgrims of Yearning

Pilgrims of Yearning’s music, specifically their 2020 release Forsake Lands, has been covered once before by S&S.

In spite of live venues being canceled, this band has been prolific in attending online streaming events including Gothicat, Arg!, Goth for Sanctuaries, and some Latin American events such as Real Under Fest and Festival Under Latinamericano. In the future, expect to see them at the upcoming Leather & Lace fest on January 31st.

Originally from Chile, they moved to Boston and will soon be again moving to the sunny city of Miami. Their current lineup is Claudio Marcio (Guitar, Sequences), Juls Garat (Voice and Lyrics), and Sean Woodbury (Bass).

Pilgrims of Yearning is working on new material, both singles and videos, to release later in 2021. Vocalist Juls Garat expressed the band’s desire to retain the “exploratory and eclectic” traits of their first album, but also follow a natural flow of evolution and exploration. 

Navigator Project

Navigator Project, according to their Bandcamp, is a synthpop/darkwave band from Naples made up of Amir Sabljaković (vocals, synth), Daniel (drums), and Caroline (lyrics, melodies).

There are four releases on their page. Spellbound, a single posted August 3rd, Follow the Light, a full album posted on October 16th, In the Spiral (Klonavenus Remix), a single posted on December 13th, and In the Spiral (Lost Messages Remix), another remix single posted on December 29th. I gave them a listen. Navigator Project makes dynamic, active-sounding music with intense, almost nostalgic synth lines that I’d love to hear at the local club. Sabljaković’s vocals are clean and relaxed yet focused with, if I’m correct, a slight accent that is quite enjoyable to listen to.

I reached out to Sabljaković inquiring about any future material. He told me that, in light of the pandemic and pause in concerts, they’ve taken advantage of the situation to work on another synthpop album.

Monoplan

Monoplan is a Russian synthwave band composed soley of Dmitry Philippov. S&S briefly covered them once already last February.

So, let’s get an update! Since then, Monoplan has put out three releases: The Game (March 2020), Promzona (October 2020), and Beneath The Sky of The Sleeping Cities (November 2020).

I reached out to Philippov for more information. He describes Monoplan’s music as “a soundtrack to the bleak dystopian cityscapes where ghostly figures dance on the rooftops of abandoned houses to the beat of an old drum computer and eerily pulsating synths,” and that’s honestly perfect. What an image! Regarding genre, Monoplan is “a lo-fi mix of post-punk and cold wave, sometimes steering off to gloomy disco or punky reggae.” If the ghosts-on-rooftops didn’t catch your attention, how’s gloomy disco for you? Definitely something unique!

Do you have any future albums in the making/planned?

Yes. My most recent release, the Pod Nebom Spyaschikh Gorodov EP, was initially planned to be an album. But I had not much time to finish it properly, so it came out as a 4 track mini album. There are a few songs left, plus some new tracks in the making. I think I’ll return to them in spring.

Review of Dirty Monkey “Division”

Dirty Monkey has eight releases on their Bandcamp page, but today we’re only focusing on one: Division, their newest album, put out on December 26th.

How does this album differ from your previous material, in terms of technique, artistic direction, or creative territory?

Each release I create I definitely try and up the production quality. Like in the beginning all I had was a handheld recorder and listened to a metronome on my headphones banging on random objects then manipulated the sounds. This album I feel is a good look into the future of what I’m trying to do musically with more structure. I also have a much better setup for creating now, and it’s next to impossible to pull me away from creating.

How long have you been working on this album in particular, from the point of inspiration to completion?

I was actually in the middle of writing somewhat of a full length (1,000 years of misery) and something happened in my life that through a wrench into my gears, and new it was going to take much longer to write the whole thing. Like they say out of site out of mind, so I knew I had to put something out to give me more time. So I used 2 instrumentals I had from my (Fundamentals series) which is like a dark motivational speaker series. Updated their sounds with my new equipment, and started writing Division and Creep. So it kinda happened faster than most releases, but it’s still kinda being released still. With the current climate of the world a lot of orders are behind schedule. The album is streaming on all platforms and 2 of 3 videos are released. It will just be a little longer till the vinyl hits the streets.

On the album cover,  I recognize the bottom image as the yin-yang. The top seems to be some sort of rune crossed out. Can you tell me what it means?

I grew up in the punk scene left home at an early age, and moved into what was like a halfway house of reject punks. We were heavily into the crust political scene. Which started my journey being a musician. I’m a big Crass hole and Aus-Rotten, so I created the NO PEACE symbol in the stylings of the old school crust/political stylings. The whole album art is a homage to that scene that cut my teeth in performing. Also I don’t play sides and try to keep away from politics, but division is kinda mirroring what’s going on in my country right now. Even though I did not go into writing the track with that propose.

Do you think the current sociopolitical climate will inspire any future work?

Like I said I try not to get political with my music. It’s definitely heavily defined by my emotions though. So if things keep getting darker and effecting me or the people I love there’s a good chance it will. For now I try to avoid seeing and hearing, but with the way we live (social media) is very hard to avoid the negativity. I just want the best for everyone including the people that touched me or I touched negativity.

What’s your favorite lyrical line off the album?

That’s a good one lol

“They say my friends are bad I’m in a family of thieves”

Any last remarks for your fans?

It doesn’t cost any money to like, comment, and share. It’s a great way to support the artist you love without breaking your bank, and thank you so very much for any and all support! Cheers!

Catching Up with The Cult Sounds: New LP “Death of a Star”

Dark rock band The Cult Sounds has been covered by S&S before, such as in this introductory interview and this review of their Halloween compilation.

https://thecultsounds.bandcamp.com/

Their lineup is Bennett Huntley (vocals), Ryan McBride (lead guitar), Jordan Hageman (rhythm guitars, keys, programming), Wyatt Eagen (bass), And Justin Riley (drums).

Fortunately, we’ll see much more of them in the future. Their newest LP, Death of a Star, is scheduled to release sometime in 2021.

McBride tells me that, compared to their previous works, this one will be more “ambitious.” “We definitely weren’t afraid to take risks and incorporate different musical styles or genres when writing,” he tells me. “Also, this year has given us nothing but time to make everything just how we wanted, then listen to it over and over and go back and make any changes we felt the songs needed. If we were finding our identity with the first ep, then on this record we’re seeing how far we can take it.”

Hageman seconded this. “We really pushed our songwriting even further and experimented more. He continued by saying that “this record takes more of our inspirations and influences than we got to explore on the first EP – we brought in bits of things outside of Post-Punk and Goth to add to the palette of sounds and textures.”

Bouncing off that note of genre elements, McBride states “moving forward, we’ve woven a lot of heavier elements into our already atmospheric sound, both musically and conceptually. Right from the onset of the album, fans will notice a marked difference in our approach to the album and it only goes up from there.”

Finally, Huntley pitched in. “Overall, it’s a huge step forward for us, in terms of what we felt capable or comfortable doing compared to when we first put out our debut EP, and even as far as what I think any of us has been a part of musically up to this point. It’s a complex record and I’m really excited to see it released. I still struggle when people ask me what kind of band we are, because I’m not even sure. Day to day, song to song, we take influences from everywhere and it’s constantly changing and forcing us to evolve our sound. The full-length format has given us the chance to explore that, to stretch our legs, and 2020 gave us the time to really mature and improve as songwriters. It’s a natural growth from our earlier material but also there’s plenty that I think might surprise our followers.”

I was given access to four tracks off it: “What Gets Done in The Night,” “Pale White Horses,” “Ritual Scars,” and “Afterlight.” Right off the bat on the first track, I can see the almost metal-styled speed, power, and aggression. “Pale White Horses” is a bit softer and could perhaps be qualified as a ballad. “Ritual Scars” picks the hard energy right back up and runs with it. This is a song I would happily scream-sing along to while driving a car down a highway. Finally, “Afterlight.” It starts with a strong guitar riff that reminds me of 80s hair metal in a good way. The vocals are intense, and the energy is still nice and high.

I asked if there was any such retro influence for that particular track.

Hageman responded, telling me “as far as Afterlight goes I think there’s always some retro influences because we are influenced by a lot of music from the 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s as well as the music we grew up with like AFI, Alkaline Trio, Marilyn Manson, Nine Inch Nails, Type O Negative, My Chemical Romance, etc. We never consciously go into a piece of music with a preconceived notion of wanting to capture a decade or a sub-genre since we plot the songs as we go in writing them pulling different ideas for each section wherever that inspiration comes from at the time.”

There’s also an accompanying music video for “What Gets Done in The Night.”

It’s incredibly cinematic and smoothly shot. After almost two minutes of tense introduction, the band comes into view. As they play, we see various props around the room such as candles and an animal skull. They’re playing in a vividly painted room, which the camera gracefully pans across. The band toasts with glasses of an unknown liquid. Together is makes for an almost eerie or occult vibe, in a subtle way. This nicely accompanies the repeated lyrics concerning the devil.

I asked about the occult aspects, and Hageman confirmed my assessments. “There’s definitely some occult imagery in the video to go along with the concepts of the song’s metaphors and we also were heavily influenced by 70’s horror films and wanted to do as much of that as we could.”

I wondered if this occult theme goes through the rest of the album, too.

Huntley responded that “I think some of those references to the occult appear naturally in most of what we do. It’s a big part of what inspires us across the board, whether it’s from music or movies or literature. Black candles, rituals of the flesh, devils and demons, that’s what rock n roll is all about!”

“The title “Death of a Star” can be taken many different ways,” Hagemen added, “and each song explores the concepts of death in different facets and aspects in our everyday lives and in our culture.”

So, that concludes things. Death, rock, and a mini film- all things to look forward to with this new material!

Kali Ra “Canto XIV”

https://kalira.bandcamp.com/track/canto-xiv

Oklahoma City born David Goed, communicates through many aspects. Though of particular note, echoing vicariously through artifices of audible dialect. Casting spells using waveforms are his magic trick, and these sonic evocations stir a bubbling cauldron of emotions. Immolate with Kali Ra, and enter the realm of fusion inspirations. Stamped together like a blacksmith forging a scimitar for an upcoming pillage. Blending styles together in a orchestral way, he encapsulates the vision emerging in his art from worlds apart.

Imagine Kali Ra is a Pirate Ship, where the Main vessel sails around gathering various other aptly seasoned comrades aboard its deck to continue doing what it does best, helping to renew the never-ending cycle of entropy. Making a career out of traveling with a small community of like-minded liaisons to fulfill their encompassing directional fortes. The audible gems of his molding are of the adaptation of his methods, where he explains in a recent interview I had with him, “I take kind of a zen approach, perhaps it seems kind of corny or whatever, but it works for me. I do it for the process itself and not even for the end result. The end result is tenuous at best.”

Other than swashbuckling songs and serving swigs of spiced rum to his shipmates, Kali Ra would love to continue touring. When asked if plans were in works to do once it was safe again, David Goad replied with, “Yes, when it is safe, and by safe I define that as, people have pulled their heads out of their asses and gotten the vaccine.” If you pleased the Goddesses enough you may be lucky enough to catch Kali Ra live some day near you. However, until then you may check out Kali Ra on kalira.Bandcamp.com, Facebook, Most if not all streaming services including Spotify, and Youtube hosts some great videos of theirs as well.

Lou Blacksail