Clark – Totems Flare

It’s an interesting challenge to try to review material by an artist you know nothing about. Worse still, when it’s a largely instrumental work, so finding the words to say is even more difficult. So, let’s be clear: I have no idea where I got this album from, and I don’t know anything about Clark apart from the fact that this album was released a decade ago on the quietly legendary Warp Records.

Totems Flare opens with Outside Plume, which is definitely interesting, and challenging, but isn’t exactly pleasant to listen to, as the dark, fuzzy, and discordant sounds mix together in weird, uneasy, arrhythmic form. At worst, it is at least different from most of the music you’ll have heard recently, and that alone makes it worth a listen at this stage, but hopefully the whole album isn’t going to be like this.

Fortunately, it isn’t – Growls Garden follows, with a gloomy vocal and a much broader range of synth work. There’s still a sense of unease here, particularly in the verses, as the beats only seem to be doing a fraction of the work they should be doing, but there is at least a melody, a sense of rhythm, and some vaguely familiar sounds. They’re fuzzy and loose in form, as is the vocal really, but it comes together nicely, in a more accessible form – you can see how this might have got some radio and club plays at the time.

In the absence of any real knowledge of Clark, it would be tempting to do some research, but as regular readers will know, I try not to do that too much when reviewing, as it can so easily be a distraction from the music itself. Clark might, for all I know, be a side project of the owner of the shoe company of the same name, but trying to review their work while learning this kind of thing would strongly distract from the music. As would speculating about it, actually – I’m drifting.

Rainbow Voodoo is pleasant, but it’s probably fair to say that it’s a bit of a mess. The vocals almost sound like scat, and they kick off a rhythmic synth line that echoes the words that have been delivered. As always, you can definitely say that it’s interesting, particularly when the wild chiptune-plinky-plonk part kicks off towards the end. Then Look into the Heart Now follows, full of weird vocal samples and acid synth noises. Somehow it hangs together better than some of the other tracks, despite perhaps having a little less substance.

Of course, part of the reason your mind is wandering is that the music, while definitely interesting, does encourage you to take flights of fantasy. Maybe some stronger narcotics are needed in order to really do this justice? But you have to admire Clark for just going off and doing something interesting with his music, without any real attempt to be accessible or provide much of an explanation or commentary. In a way, it’s easier to review – this music is whatever you want it to be at the time. For me, it’s fuzzy, odd, and a bit bouncy.

That’s good, because if you listened with a traditional muso mindset, Laxman Furs would honestly be pretty awful. There isn’t a single melodic element here, and the sounds haven’t been chosen because they work well together – everything seems to be here to challenge and question the listener’s expectations. Yet somehow it’s still holding together as an album, five tracks in. Totem Crackerjack, too, is lively, with a huge bass part and frenetic drums, and somehow manages to hold itself together despite that being about it.

It should be fairly clear what you can expect by now, though, and while some tracks like Future Daniel hang together better than others, it’s all starting to get a little tiring now. How much quirky, fuzzy, awkward synth noise do you really need in your day? There’s a short piece called Primary Balloon Landing, and then Talis seems to use the same vocal sample as Growls Garden, but to less interesting effect this time. That seems to be it, really, for this end of the album – Sons of Temper doesn’t appear to have much to offer, and Absence isn’t great either. At least they don’t try to push the duration too much – there’s nothing on here longer than about five minutes.

So Totems Flare is, for me at least, a bit of a mixed bag. I liked Growls Garden, but didn’t particularly enjoy anything else here. The general mood and sound was interesting enough to keep me entertained for half an hour or so, but then it all seemed to fall apart for me, and very quickly. Could it just be that Clark isn’t my thing? Or should I just demand that they give up and go back to making shoes? I honestly don’t know.

You can still find Totems Flare from all regular retailers.

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Marsheaux – E-bay Queen

Marsheaux are, for me, fascinatingly enigmatic. They’re a Greek female duo, who I really know nothing about. Their debut E-bay Queen was released fifteen years ago this week, and it’s really hard to know what to make of it. It encourages you, somehow, to just close your eyes and enjoy it at face value – and that can only ever be a good thing.

It opens with M.A.R.S.H.E.A.U.X., the beautifully squawky band manifesto. Apart from the eponymous initials, it’s a thumping electro instrumental, with some great acid noises that appear halfway through. You would not, I think, buy an album just for this, and with that in mind, it’s confusing that anybody bought this in the first place, because there weren’t any singles either, but it’s definitely good.

It isn’t until Flash Lights that things really start to make sense. We know now, of course, that this isn’t Marsheaux‘s finest work, but it’s still enough to hook you in as a listener, and even if the “follow the tits” instruction in the lyrics is somewhat crass, there’s still plenty to enjoy here.

And it keeps getting better – for the first time, Shake Me is a track that quickly shows itself to be brilliant. With its catchy chorus and rippling synth lines, this nods sweetly to the past without actually being retro, and yet it isn’t exactly contemporary either. This is music for uncomfortable and awkward misfits, the world over. Which, by the way, is very definitely a good thing.

So wouldn’t it be really clever if Marsheaux threw something contemporary and familiar in at this point, just to subvert the pattern the have built already? Something like, say, the Lightning Seeds‘s lovely Pure? So that’s what we get – a great song, given new life with a female vocal and gloriously “pure and simple” synth lines, if you’ll pardon the pun. It’s a fantastic rendition of the song, and really deserved to be a huge hit by itself. If only it had ever been released as a single.

Play Boy keeps the run of great tracks going. It’s slower, and perhaps also a little darker, insofar as darkness ever really shows up on this album. It’s hard to define in a way – this is really a pure pop album, but it’s also slightly challenging, subversive pop – something that only comes as an import from Greece. Who knew that Greece had a strong music scene with its own synthpop artists? And with budgets to release items with packaging as beautiful as this, too?

Computer Love is, of course, a bit of a nod to the track of the same name that Kraftwerk debuted in 1981. While there’s little direct homage in the lyrics or sounds, and I’ve never seen them talk about it particularly openly, a lot of the sounds on this album seem to take inspiration from the Düsseldorf quartet – the focus is on tight, clear sounds, not broad pads or sweet, mellow atmospheres. Yet despite that, there’s a certain soft charm.

Tonight is one of my less favourite tracks on here: somehow the synth line is a bit too manic; the hand claps a little too heavily distributed; and for the first time it feels as though you’ve heard this all already. This is a consistent album, certainly, but that comes at a price of some tracks being a little too similar to one another at times. Then, of course, Marsheaux subvert their own form by covering the vocals with some crazy and unusual effects, and you start to wonder whether anything really makes sense any more.

The Game quickly picks things up again, though, with a brilliantly odd blip that doesn’t quite ever seem to be hitting its beat. It’s a lovely song, and possibly for the first time uses softer pad sounds to change the mood somewhat. They aren’t prominent, by any means, but this is a great song. Then comes Analyse, somewhat less subversive but every bit as much fun.

Ola Girizhoun is next, the only track to be sung in Greek. That’s a bit of a shame, really – they’re singing in English in order to make themselves seem more accessible to global audiences, and that absolutely works in their favour, but not without anonymising one of the things that makes them special – they aren’t native English speakers, and hearing them singing in their own language is a treat. Which makes it all the more interesting that this is actually a Chris & Cosey song, where Marsheaux have added their own lyrics. Work that one out.

Hands on Me is a lively piece with resonating synth sounds, but honestly a bit less actual melody than some of the earlier tracks. Then we’re onto the final track already – another cover, this time of the eternal instrumental Popcorn. This was, apparently, a huge radio hit in Greece at the time, and it’s a worthy cover, somehow just managing to stay on the right side of being extremely cheesy. It’s great, but at the same time hard to take very seriously. Maybe that’s a good thing, though – while lovely, and occasionally a little subversive, this seems to have been a pretty serious album up to now.

Five or six albums on, Marsheaux remain enigmatic, always taking unexpected steps. E-bay Queen, with its odd name and entirely unpredictable packaging, is a great debut. It has its weaker moments, but nothing that you could actually call a flaw – which is a very impressive way to kick off your career. But will we ever see them gracing the charts? It seems unlikely, somehow.

Your best option for hearing E-bay Queen is to find the mp3 download.

La Roux – La Roux

Right from the start of La Roux‘s eponymous debut, it’s pretty clear what’s going on – it opens with the huge hit In for the Kill, with Elly Jackson singing about an octave higher than she’s really comfortable with. It’s uncomfortable to listen to – this was early in their career, but you feel as though this is someone young, who hasn’t really worked out who they are yet, or what they want to do. She’s intentionally singing with the voice of a million pop songs, because that’s what she thinks she’s meant to do. At least, that’s what it sounds like.

The thing is, La Roux is actually a pretty good song, In for the Kill is a very good, catchy pop song, but that voice… it just doesn’t sound right – and with good reason. When Jackson worked with New Order on Music Complete, she proved conclusively that she’s a good singer. There’s little sign of that here.

There are hints, though – Tigerlily is an angry, perhaps intentionally Lily Allen-like vocal delivery. It’s insubstantial, like a lot of Lily Allen‘s discography, but it’s a good pop song. It even has a tribute to Thriller in the middle, although it doesn’t honestly work particularly well here – this is a lot less atmospheric.

Quicksand is next, and we’re back to the hoarse screechy vocal delivery again. It does wear a little less as you get used to it, actually – and the synth backing, although a little cheesy at times, is punchy and fun. Then the number one hit single Bulletproof – and by this stage, you should be thoroughly used to the vocal delivery. It’s another great pop song, even though it doesn’t really flow well from the preceding track. If the production weren’t quite so naff, and the vocals were an octave or so lower, this could be a great pop-rock crossover. As it is, it’s a good song, but it does seem to be lacking something.

It’s a decade now since La Roux graced the charts, and pretty much as long since La Roux graced the charts – follow-up Trouble in Paradise, released a telling five years later, performed well but only yielded one minor hit single. So La Roux is very much a product of its time.

For the first time, Colourless Colour does something more interesting than just pop. The chorus isn’t the strongest ever, but the synth pad work in the verse is gloriously retro. It is a worthwhile reminder, though, of just how interesting pop can be when enough work has been put into the production – all the tracks up to now just seem to have fallen a little flat, in retrospect.

The kazoo-like lead on final single I’m Not Your Toy is a nice illustration of this. It would work fine on its own, but amongst its neighbours, it feels like a kind of laughing irony. The song is strong though – there’s little to fault about the song writing on most of these tracks, actually. The pitch is a little off, as is the production, but the base song is good.

We’ve also run out of singles now – Cover My Eyes is next, and is a nice, very eighties-inspired track. The longest track on the album, it does seem to owe a lot to the pop of a couple of decades earlier, and given that Jackson was only born in 1988, that’s actually quite impressive. It may not be new, but it is at least interesting.

So it continues, really – As if By Magic is both fresh and dated, and really for the first time on this album, it seems to be comfortably in Jackson’s vocal range. It even has a fade at the end, which, as we’ve discussed before, is rare on modern pop songs. Fasicnation has what is probably the oddest vocal melody on the whole album, and is consequently possibly one of the hardest tracks to enjoy here. Honestly, it’s a bit of a mess, this one.

Reflections Are Protection is better, but the album is pretty much over by this point. You can see this working well as a song for a house party, perhaps late in the night, when everyone is feeling a bit worse for wear. Actually, that’s a fair analogy for this album – it’s a house party, where you have some fun, but something doesn’t quite seem right – and you just keep bumping into that loud person with the grating voice. You can’t help that uneasy feeling that you’re going to wake up in the morning and wonder whether the hangover was really worth it.

The last track is Armour Love, which is one of the better songs on here. It’s slower, with a jauntier rhythm and a clever melody. This could have been a great single, actually, with if the marketing strategy had been a little bolder. It’s certainly fair to say that La Roux are capable of writing and recording interesting songs. In amongst everything else.

Some editions also add the bonus track Growing Pains, which is another highlight actually, but the die is cast by this stage. La Roux is a worthy debut, and an interesting album. It’s easy to fault in many ways, but it has plenty going for it, and it obviously tapped into the moment – its chart performance speaks for itself. Most people probably won’t be listening to it now, but it’s worth at least having it in your awareness. Pop, when done well, can be truly great.

You can still find La Roux by La Roux on general release.

Youssou N’Dour – The Guide (Wommat)

Let’s face it, there aren’t a lot of reasons why you, in 1994, might have been interested in Youssou N’Dour‘s The Guide (Wommat). They’re probably much the same as now – either you know and love Senegalese music, or you liked 7 Seconds when it came out. Either way, there’s a lot to enjoy on this album. It’s 25 years old this week, which is as good a reason as any to give it a listen.

N’Dour was, by this stage, very well established, having found success in his native Senegal and across Africa more than a decade earlier, and starting to gather European hits in the mid-eighties, starting in France. He had worked with Peter Gabriel on a number of occasions, including providing backing vocals for In Your Eyes. By 1993, his name was well known in the UK, even if his music was not particularly. He was one of the first artists to controversially fuse traditional African music with electronic sounds

This album opens with the catchy Leaving (Dem). Without understanding most of the lyrics or knowing much of the backstory, it’s going to be difficult to comment on specific tracks here, but at worst the tracks here are all pleasant, and some are very nice indeed. Old Man follows, with a softer jazz feel, getting disconcertingly faster as the track goes on.

Without a Smile (Same) and Mame Bamba follow. By the late 1980s, N’Dour was regularly providing French and English language lyrics and titles for album tracks alongside the various African (and apparently invented) languages that had appeared on earlier releases, but it often feels here as though the actual lyrics matter less than the feel of the words. N’Dour’s music seems broadly joyful and celebratory, and somehow understanding every word might spoil it – for me, this is a celebration of the beautiful world we live in and the people who inhabit it.

Which brings us to 7 Seconds, the brilliant collaboration with Neneh Cherry that hit the top three in the UK and number one in several European countries in mid-1994, certainly the most successful song to be sung in Wolof on the UK chart, and probably among the most successful French songs too. The collaboration appears to have been initiated by Cherry, who had been listening to N’Dour since his western breakthrough in the 1980s. It’s a pretty transparent song actually, talking about how a newborn doesn’t know anything about war or conflict. There’s a dark undertone, in a way, but really if you have thought of this as a joyful album so far, this underlines that feeling somewhat. Think of it as untainted, unknowing innocence, and it’s really rather beautiful.

N’Dour has his work cut out to keep you listening after that, though. How You Are (No Mele) is the track he chooses, which lists the independence dates of various African countries. It’s good, and unusually the meaning is firmly in the lyrics this time, so there’s a marked contrast between this and its neighbour Generations (Diamono), where the music is chirpy and beautiful even if you don’t understand the lyrics.

The questionable choice on this release was to put way too many tracks on here – this was the early nineties, and artists were beginning to explore extending the form of the album out to the full length of a CD. So Youssou N’Dour has put no fewer than fifteen tracks on here, and however varied, that’s enough to really burn the listener out. Couple that with English-speaking audiences being unused to other languages, and you’re pretty much guaranteed that a lot of listeners will just have this on in the background while doing something else.

Some tracks deserve that – Tourista is nice enough, but far from a standout song. Undecided (Japoulo) was the follow-up single in the UK, sadly only reaching number 53 but remaining to this day one of his biggest hits. Other than 7 Seconds it’s the most electronic track on here, which is undoubtedly why it was picked as a single. For that release, Neneh Cherry stepped in again to provide backing vocals, and Deep Forest reworked it, but despite those then-huge names, it failed to make much impact.

But this is where having so many tracks starts to become a problem – Love One Another (Beuguente), Life (Adouna) and My People (Samay Nit) fade into the background, rightly or wrongly. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with this album, but its component parts would have stood out a lot better if there hadn’t been quite as many of them.

That isn’t to say that nothing stands out at all at this end of the album – Oh Boy is a nice jazzy piece, and Silence (Tongo) has some wonderfully lively uncredited backing vocals on it, and some great percussive work. It’s just that by now, most listeners will have lost a lot of their energy and interest. Closing the album is a translated cover of Bob Dylan‘s Chimes of Freedom, which is probably the most unexpected thing to turn up here. In particular, you can imagine this being brilliant as a live performance.

So, at the end, this is an interesting album. It feels almost offensive to N’Dour and all the great musicians who worked on this to describe it as background music, and of course that’s unfair, because speakers of other languages and listeners of other styles will find plenty to like here. Really, the problem is purely the number of tracks – and even that is only a problem when you sit down to pay it full attention. There’s enough great material here – just maybe don’t try to listen to it all at once.

You can still find The Guide (Wommat) at all major retailers.

Joy Division – Unknown Pleasures

There are some albums that just feel sacrilegious to review, and both of Joy Division‘s fall comfortably into that category. There really isn’t much that you can say that hasn’t already been said, but it celebrates its fortieth anniversary this week, and so it seems a good time to challenge yourself and give it a go. Let’s put it on and try to listen with fresh ears, and see where it takes us.

It opens with Disorder, which may or may not be one of Ian Curtis‘s finest moments, but it definitely gives you a pretty solid introduction to the group and what they’re trying to do. More punk than some of their songs, it’s a strong, emotional opener.

In common with all of Joy Division‘s releases, there are no singles on here, so now, forty years on, the album’s structure seems a little unusual. The dark, grungy Day of the Lords is the second track, right where most albums would put their prime single. It’s beautifully miserable in the way that Curtis so quickly mastered, with typically dark and cheerless lyrics. Where will it end?

Joy Division were right at the start of their chart career at this point, having no singles under their belt, and just a handful of recordings on compilations. That career was, of course, tragically short – this may have been their first album, but Curtis had less than a year to live before his suicide in May 1980. If you include New Order‘s subsequent decades of success, there is a clear progression of sound, but without that, there’s nothing raw or immature about this – this is Joy Division‘s sound

Candidate is a softer, less accessible, shorter piece that fits perfectly without challenging the listener unnecessarily. In a way, every Joy Division track has its challenges – many of their songs are hymns for misfits – but when you hear them together in album form, it’s interesting how few of them jar. So Insight, with its slightly uncomfortably discordant vocal and zapping synth effects, somehow seems a perfect fit amongst the punk and grunge of earlier tracks.

You couldn’t comment on Unknown Pleasures without mentioning the artwork – Peter Saville‘s exquisite take on the waveforms, perfectly framed and coloured, complement the music brilliantly. Although Saville seems to have been involved, it’s hard not to be a little offended by the new fortieth anniversary reissue of the album, where the artwork has been inexplicably switched to black-on-white to fit Bernard Sumner‘s original sleeve idea.

The first side closes with New Dawn Fades, one of two or three tracks on here that probably would have been singles if this had been a more recent release. It has a fascinating spacious, epic quality, which seems to just build and build without ever really reaching its explosion. If you weren’t convinced by this album yet, you should be by now.

Or maybe the first track on the second side is the one that clinches it? She’s Lost Control is brilliant, absolutely one of Joy Division‘s finest tracks. It’s accessible as a pop song, and yet dark and rocky, with the excellent early experimental percussive drum effects. If you had to introduce contemporary music to an alien, She’s Lost Control wouldn’t be a bad way to do it.

Shadowplay too has a loyal following, maybe because of the haunting line about “waiting for you,” or maybe because of the catchy guitar line, or perhaps something else entirely. This one I understand less well – it’s a good track, definitely one of the better ones on here, but I think I prefer the previous two.

A couple of shorter tracks follow, Wilderness and Interzone. Both stand out in their own way – the first is cut to a similar template to some of the earlier tracks, while the second is an intriguingly experimental rock piece, with hard-panned tracks and twin-tracked vocals.

Closing the album is the longer, and broader I Remember Nothing, delivering a haunting vocal and moody backing. At the time, without the four decades that have come since its release, I wonder whether this might have seemed an oddly inaccessible track to close the album, but now, with the benefit of time, it seems a perfect closer.

Unknown Pleasures is great, of course – you knew that already. It’s emotional, dark, at times dreamlike, and somehow accessible to indie kids and electroboys/girls alike. Curtis’s raw, bloody, poetic genius is on full form here, and impressively so for a debut album. To a modern eye, it’s perhaps a shame that there wasn’t space for a single or two, but this is true to Joy Division‘s form, nonetheless. And forty years on, it somehow still seems every bit as legendary as it ever did.

It’s difficult to recommend a version of Unknown Pleasures to own without a deeper knowledge of the differences, so you might need to do some of your own research here. This is the regular deluxe edition, to get you started.

Faithless – No Roots

Fifteen years ago this week, Faithless reappeared with their fourth album No Roots. By this stage, they were already very well established, with several top ten hits under their belt, so this album rightfully went straight in at number one in the UK chart – but does it live up to expectations?

It opens with a short abstract version of title track No Roots before launching into the dull but worthy album version of lead single Mass Destruction. There are cases, sometimes, when you have to wonder why an artist didn’t just ditch a track and try again, and sadly this is one – it’s still a lyrically brilliant track, but without the backing of the single version, it’s just a bit of a waste of time. They did, at least, throw the single version on the end as an afterthought, but this particular version really is nothing special.

I Want More: Part 1 is next, with a smooth mix from the preceding track. It’s a good song, and this time the production fits well, but perhaps it’s the smooth mix that’s the problem. Faithless‘s appeal was always that they were an extremely inventive dance act. They weren’t particularly unusual or innovative, but they would pull catchy melodies and clever lyrics together beautifully. This all feels a bit of a cop out, honestly.

I Want More: Part 2 follows, with a vocal sample from Nina Simone, and with a Pink Floyd sample at the beginning and end. It’s a good track which just missed out on the top twenty when it was released as a single. It seems a better fit with the production than the preceding tracks, so perhaps this was where we were headed, after all.

It might be missing some of the individual hooks, but this is a good album. Love Lives on My Street is a good song, and again, seems less shoehorned into the instrumentation – you wonder whether maybe you’re just getting used to the album concept by now.

The mix continues, as does the album, with the forgettable Bluegrass and Sweep, before the final single, the monumental flop Miss U Less, See U More. This is a pretty strong, catchy single, so it’s somewhat surprising that its commercial success was so limited. Or maybe not – it does stand out a little, but you still have to wonder whether Faithless were dialling it in a little bit on this album.

That mixes into the full title track, which sees Maxi Jazz on fine form, telling us about his upbringing – probably not for the first time, but he’s always a great lyricist, so even if we have heard this before, there’s really no harm in that.

The broader, more epic landscapes are welcome on this album, although in a way they tend to be continuations of other tracks rather than standalone pieces of their own. Swingers is a fine example, although it gains a few murmured vocals after a couple of minutes. This is a trance-like album, and it would probably help to leave your expectations of Faithless at the door. The trouble is, your expectations are inevitably pretty high, and this album is definitely lacking something – the albums had been becoming more concise and concentrated for some time, but maybe this was a step too far? If you’ll pardon the pun…

So you would be hard pushed to notice when Swingers merges into Pastoral, or Pastoral into Everything Will Be Alright Tomorrow. The latter track spawned an entire broad, abstract mini-album of its own, which is every bit as forgettable as some of the tracks on here. This is a bit of a trend, unfortunately – What About Love is worthy, but just pales into insignificance, even alongside older Faithless album tracks. There would be two more albums before they finally called it a day as a group, but they just seemed low on ideas at this stage.

Right at the end comes the understated and pleasant In the End, a soft, brooding closer, which works well in the context of the rest of the album. So No Roots is a conflicted listen, really – it’s fairly consistent, and it does flow nicely, but it clearly isn’t anywhere near as good as its predecessors. Fortunately, the single version of Mass Destruction closes the release, showing what Faithless were capable of rather more effectively. It’s not a track that has aged particularly well, but somehow this version brings out the lyrics much better than the earlier one. It’s a shame they decided to demote it to what looks like a bonus track, though.

You can still find No Roots on wide release for a sensible price, unless you’re looking for it on vinyl, which is currently listed at nearly 600 GBP!

Front Line Assembly – Implode

Celebrating its twentieth birthday this week is Front Line Assembly‘s eleventh (roughly) album Implode.

If there’s one thing you can guarantee with Front Line Assembly, it’s that they will always be dark and industrial. So it is with opening track Retribution – it merges dark, crunchy beats with harsh electronic sounds. There are plenty of pads in the mix – this isn’t, at least at this point, some kind of electronic form of heavy metal, but it is definitely dark.

Describing Front Line Assembly‘s sound to someone who hasn’t heard it is difficult, as there’s little like this on the charts or on the radio. You could try to come up with an explanation that merges some overproduced pop star with a flamboyant rocker in black make up, but the truth is that most people will have never really heard anything like this. What you can say, with some confidence, is that this is pretty good.

Where Retribution was a bit less tuneful and more experimental, Fatalist is closer to what Front Line Assembly sound like when they’re really good. There’s a punchy acid bassline with disorientating, discordant electronic sounds mixing in and out. Until the chorus, the vocal is pretty awful, honestly – a distorted mess of shouting, but the softer chorus lead more than makes up for that.

Next comes the lead single, Prophecy, probably the best track on this album. It’s a whirlwind of grizzly, plodding beats with another punchy bass part. This is probably as close as this album gets to perfecting the idea of “electronic heavy metal” – it’s still quite shouty, but the drama, this time, is played out masterfully. If those aren’t guitars crunching along in the chorus, then they’re very well realised.

What is particularly well realised with this album, though, is the packaging – the disturbing man-beetle hybrid shapes on the cover and all over the sleeve are rather beautiful, and are complemented well by the gold and brown colouring and other design choices. But the lyrics are, as usual with Front Line Assembly, not great – the line “even angels love to fall,” in Prophecy is not, I think, a poetic statement about the death of love, but a selection of dark and grim words that have been chosen to add to the mood of the piece without necessarily meaning anything particular. Or maybe it’s just the delivery that makes it feel that way?

After a while, the tracks start to blend together somewhat. The biting, acidic instrumental Synthetic Forms works well, but does little to stand out. Falling is slower and more atmospheric, but still doesn’t make much of a mark. Similarly, Don’t Trust Anyone is fine, but doesn’t somehow quite seem to capture the feeling of the earlier tracks.

Next track Unknown Dreams is more noteworthy – there’s a problem, again, with the lyrics, as “Forever and ever / tomorrow may never come,” only really makes sense in a limited context. But this is unfair – Front Line Assembly do have good lyrics from time to time, but it’s hardly going to be the main reason that people listen to them.

Torched is pleasant too, with lots of grimy beats and blistering electronic squawks alongside a deeply atmospheric song. The static breakdown in the middle doesn’t quite seem to work, but otherwise it holds together well. Machine Slave is good, although by this point you’re probably thinking that you have definitely heard pretty much everything you’re likely to on this release.

So actually the closing instrumental Silent Ceremony is a pleasant surprise. With some of the dark, melodic charm of roughly the same duo’s work with Delerium, this is a standout track to hide right at the end. It’s no less dark than anything else on here, but it’s much more melodic, atmospheric, and frankly, beautiful.

It’s not even quite the end – a chirpy little instrumental called Stalker is what actually closes things out, and it does so in pleasant fashion. Like much of this album, it’s often exhilarating, and sometimes unpredictable – but occasionally also repetitive and somewhat dull. Implode is a very good album, and certainly a challenging listen for many audiences – but it’s not a great album.

You can still find Implode at all major retailers, although it may come at a premium in some territories.