Music Reviews

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Artist: Front Line Assembly
Title: Echogenetic
Format: CD
Label: Metropolis Records (@)
Rated: *****
Building upon the dubstep-dabbling introduced in their previous release, 2012's AirMech, a soundtrack to the eponymous real-time strategy video game, Front Line Assembly's 18th studio album, Echogenetic, reflects a blend of experiments in dubstep and FLA's classic electronic body music sound.

Each FLA fan has their preference and opinion on what constitutes FLA's best work, whether the early era of conventional, classic EBM (such as Initial Command and Corrosion), metal-influence and guitar sampling (such as in 1994's Millennium, and to a lesser extent, 2010's Improvised Electronic Device), albums bordering on techno, or the melodic, danceable EBM introduced in 1992's Tactical Neural Implant and heard in various albums since. Accordingly, every fan is likely to have a different opinion on Echogenetic. Dubstep-influenced beats and structure are heard throughout Echogenetic, such as in tracks "Leveled," "Deadened," "Exhale," and "Prototype." These elements are not omnipresent, thereby ensuring Echogenetic holds one's attention and remains listenable throughout.

The introductory, bass filled track is the dark instrumental "Resonance," which ends on a dramatic and sudden note to transition into "Leveled," which jumps right in with the syncopated beats that characterize the dubstep genre. Leeb's effected vocals in this track, and indeed, throughout the album, are rather reminiscent of Tactical Neural Implant-era FLA. "Leveled" stands out as a surprising track, its mood temporarily lightened in an otherwise dark song with around a minute of minimalistic keyboard in a major key in the middle of the song. This type of juxtaposition is not an uncommon element in FLA's music, and while a bit disorienting this early in the album, it somehow works and prepares one for more surprises later.

"Killing Grounds" sounds as though it could be the industrial music anthem for 2013. It is a pounding dance track with repetitive vocals and more sound- and vocal influence from Tactical Neural Implant, particularly in the breakdown. This track is among the highlights of the album, along with the hauntingly (no pun intended) sorrowful and beautiful "Ghosts," which incorporates synthetic strings and vocoded effects. The band re-visits the somber sound later in the dramatic "Exo."

"Blood" is undoubtedly the catchiest track on the album due to the hook in the lyrics of the chorus: "You've got blood in your eyes / you can't see past your lies / You are the one you desire / Because you've got blood in your eyes."

The title track is the most dubstep-heavy on the album. The album then concludes with "Exhale," another danceable track ready for gothic-industrial club play, and "Heartquake." Not the strongest track, "Heartquake" nevertheless literally winds down the album nicely.

Overall, Echogenetic is a very strong, well-produced, and riveting release, arguably among the strongest Front Line Assembly albums in the past decade. While dubstep has largely become stigmatized, particularly due to the criticism it has received since breaking into mainstream music since 2009, Leeb and his collaborators continue to be talented musicians who know how to work with trends without compromising the core sound and principles that made FLA one of biggest industrial and EBM bands to date.

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