As one of the most prolific acts on the planet, Front Line Assembly (pretty much the same people as Delerium, Conjure One, and a whole list of other artists you could be forgiven for never having heard of) are surprisingly little known. In the FLA guise, their style is dark, industrial, almost electro-metal. They draw influence from Nitzer Ebb and Front 242, and there are audible influences (and often samples) from the likes of New Order, but otherwise they sound almost entirely unlike anything in the charts.
Civilization was their twelve millionth album, released early in 2004. Since they have never really seen commercial success with this particular hat, it’s difficult to explain how it fits into their career timeline. For me, it was the first of their albums that I came across, and perhaps that’s why I like this one the best. You may know better.
The first track is Psychosomatic, which is not one of the strongest on the album, but it serves as a good introduction for the uninitiated. Deep, pounding bass sounds, and throbbing acid effects are punctuated by a reverb-filled piano and wailing female vocal. You should have the idea where this album is likely to be heading by now.
Next up is the first of two singles, Maniacal, which as with many Front Line Assembly tracks mixes some very strange influences. It opens with a female choir sample, and quickly builds into a throbbing but also brooding piece of industrial electronica, with a very angry vocal indeed.
As with much of FLA’s output, it also contains some very strange English (“obliverate,” which they have used a few times but definitely isn’t a word), and so should probably be interpreted as being more about the mood than the actual lyrics. The chorus though – whatever it’s actually about – is very powerful indeed.
Transmitter is my favourite track on the album. It’s the most melodic (the users on the band’s forum used to love the word “cheesy” to describe anything that contained more melody than shouting) and probably the most easily accessible, but it still hides some interesting experimental production. As always, it is driven by the cutting bass sound and atmospheric acid noises, but this time the vocal (“Let’s all march together until the world ends,”) seems more important and meaningful.
Vanished is strong too, and was justifiably the second single, despite their decision to remove all the good bits from the single version. As with the previous track, the lyrics are particularly strong, and the piano line, again full of reverb, seems to bring exactly the right feel to the piece.
Front Line Assembly boast an enormous cult following, particularly in the USA and Germany, and justifiably so. If they had been doing much in the 1980s, a few low end chart placings might not have gone amiss, but they don’t belong on the Top 40. And yet it’s difficult to know what the fans might make of the central track on the album Strategic. It’s only little, clocking in at just under two minutes, but it’s essentially acid rather than industrial.
The second half of the album is no less atmospheric or powerful. Civilization – as with most tracks mysteriously misnamed or misspelt on the album sleeve – is perhaps the slowest track on the album, but is still dark and dreamy. Until the chorus turns up, again using the invented word “obliverate,” but otherwise it’s pure metal.
Fragmented and Parasite are just as powerful, mixing darker and gentler elements to produce quite excellent sounds, still completely unlike anything you’ll hear on the radio. The penultimate track Dissident is particularly alien and otherworldly.
The closing track Schicksal is perhaps a little less powerful than some of its predecessors, but it’s still closing an extremely good album. Dark, perhaps even depressing at times, but always full of atmosphere and emotion, and definitely highly recommended.
You can find Civilization through all the usual physical and download stores, such as here.