Review Summary: A handful of experiments and the poppier side of Front Line Assembly...
Front Line Assembly repeatedly proved over the years they can successfully shape shift their sound to accommodate the ever-changing trends. Even so, their trademark features always stood firmly as the foundation of each LP. The group’s industrial metal oriented era remains my favorite, although classics such as Tactical Neural Implant
or Caustic Grip
remain essential as well. The updated counterpart, Echogenetic
(2013) was a brilliant return to the electronic roots, shedding all distorted guitars in the process. During this six-year gap, the band went through some modifications: the fortunate one was the return of Rhys Fulber and releasing the cool, expansive WarMech
game soundtrack. Unfortunately, long time member Jeremy Inkel passed away last year due to asthma complications, however, his final contributions can be heard on the latest affair on ‘Structures’ & ‘Mesmerized’.
Wake Up the Coma
was a deliberate move sideways, as Bill Leeb and Rhys Fulber preferred a more collaborative setting. Thus, we’re presented some interesting additions, mainly the Falco cover, ‘Rock Me Amadeus’, where Mindless Self Indulgence’s Jimmy Urine sings in German. The tune already garnered bipolar reactions from the fan base. Despite favoring a less abrasive sound overall, ‘Rock Me Amadeus’ is undoubtedly the poppiest moment here. Nevertheless, I find it successful, maintaining the original song’s charm, while wrapping it in a contemporary production. The Delerium connections are on spot (this is available for several tracks here), however, let us not forget the last couple of records done with Fulber had the same leanings. Meanwhile, another surprise was to hear Nick Holmes of Paradise Lost on the epic title track. FLA processed his clean croon and inserted some brooding synths, alongside trap-oriented beats, as well as EDM build-ups. Again, Rhys had a word to say in PL’s “Depeche Mode” era, but this track surely drove the front man out of his comfort zone. Many purists will probably find it awkward or discard it, yet I believe it was a bold move that actually paid off. Moreover, the Chris Connelly assisted ‘Spitting Wind’ brings forth a WarMech
-like instrumental graced by piano-led detours, airy chime pads and busy drumming. Furthermore, it experiments with different vocal styles: intertwined are Leeb’s distorted cyborg voice and the guest’s David Bowiesque tremolos & poignant shouts. Even though there are some interesting ideas on it, the track itself doesn’t take off like others on the album.
The rest of the LP consists of familiar material. I must admit I was craving for a couple of aggressive tracks a la ‘Killing Grounds’, but the majority of the songs are dispersed in the mid-tempo area. Whereas the sequenced synthesizers form the basis of most cuts, Front Line Assembly took their time to properly layer and embellish every segment. The increasing experience displays how easily the guys can craft a solid tune. ‘Tilt’ and ‘Proximity’ plod through pulsing keys that grow in intensity, only to burst into a more harmonious chorus. ‘Negative Territory’ ends closest to Delerium’s nostalgia, as Leeb adopts a softer vocal delivery to match the mournful music. I dig this crossover, mainly due to the fact that it adds a soulful touch to the usually mechanic FLA formulas (it also reminisces another highlight from Echogenetic
, ‘Exo’). Thankfully, to balance the record, the guys offer us some vibrant numbers in between the moodier ones too. The most fun is the potential club banger, ‘Structures’, whose EDM influences are again augmenting the darker rhythms. At the same time, ‘Mesmerized’ shares a catchy groove and cool attitude. Together with the “ultra heavy” beats of ‘Eye on You’ or the drum’n’bass-led ditty, ‘Arbeit’, these would make KMFDM proud.
In the end, Wake Up the Coma
isn’t that much of a step forward for Front Line Assembly. It consolidates their strengths by spreading out to cover different moods and sounds. The results are satisfying, but this isn’t the band at their peak. Bill Leeb mentioned in a recent interview: “I don’t think we need to prove anymore that we can make an album” and this is the reality. With such a qualitative discography behind, the group wanted to experiment a bit (the collaborations are a direct result to this decision). Besides them, you still get an album’s worth of solid to strong tracks. At this point in their career, I’d rather have them wandering sonic-wise much like Nine Inch Nails did lately, instead of treading the same grounds such as other acts in the genre.