Review Summary: Together as one crew, against the one crew.
When you’ve been in the music making business as long as Andy LaPlegua, it’s completely understandable why you’d want to explore different sounds and styles. After all, he’s quite a diverse songwriter when you look at everything he has done in and out of Combichrist. With that said however, his sonic expedition caught less than favourable opinions by the time This Is Where Death Begins
came around; it was a contentious, albeit ambitious album where many fans saw its deviation into a more overt industrial metal style as a bit of a betrayal. The record had the band’s core selling points nestled at the heart of it but they were far from being the main attraction anymore, quickly garnering a negative consensus as a result. And yet, despite my own thorough enjoyment of 2016’s controversial offering, I can see where the criticism comes from – making One Fire
’s announcement particularly interesting, just to see where Andy was planning on taking Combichrist’s sound after the backlash. Couple that with the departure of long-time drummer Joe Letz, who left to pursue a less hectic lifestyle, and One Fire
quickly becomes one of this year’s biggest intrigues. The age-old argument that an established artist/musician should bend the knee to fan pandering – or at the very least, have their core audience in mind whilst venturing off with their own hedonistic desires – is a moot point, and not one I particularly agree with. Yeah, a balance is needed, but I don’t think it should come at the expense of creative suppression. 2017’s single, “Broken United,” was an organic progression on from This Is Where Death Begins
and, at the time, it looked as though the band were sticking to their guns regardless of any fallout that had ensued, but it’s definitely evident now that LaPlegua has had a long hard look at everything he’s accomplished since then and gone back to the drawing board for this album.
is split into two parts: the first part borders on being an apologetic love letter to its fans; the second part focuses on off-the-rails experimentation. The harsh aggrotech assault on “One Fire” is a wondrously executed embrace of former glories and should please fans to no end; “Last Days Under the Sun” is a high-octane trance track with plenty of eerie samples and the stapled, raspy punk screams associated with the more authentic Combichrist sound; while “Understand”’s schizophrenic, high-frequency guitar riffs and ominous choruses should bring plenty of enjoyment to the older demographic of fans. There’s the more middling numbers that hold the album’s cohesion together like “The Other,” “2045” and “Broken United,” the latter of which has had a little bit of rework to its overall presentation – it’s no longer the guitar chugging metal track it once was, being overlaid with a barrage of electronics and reverb to give a denser, more claustrophobic feeling; changes that make the track sit more naturally with the rest of the record – and the more balanced “Hate Like Me” which successfully juggles their base sound with This Is Where Death Begins
' metal stomp.
Overall, One Fire
is a worthwhile offering, but for any theories that LePlegua was going to cave in to peer pressure, leave them at the door when you hear the album in full. Yes, this is a more traditionally constructed Combichrist album, but its experimentation is the most extreme yet. “Bottle of Pain” is an obscure folk piece with an epic orchestral backdrop, made all the weirder by LePlegua lamenting his spoken words in a way that is best described as Tom Waits staggering out of Paddy’s Pub sh-t-faced, slurring a dialogue to himself and putting the world to rights before passing out in a gutter. It’s such a jarring contrast of sounds that, oddly, works really well here. The stalking acoustic guitar strokes bring a tonal mesh that is both uplifting and unsettling at the same time, while a brooding array of orchestral instruments support the Nick Cave - Murder Ballads
-esuqe theme of murder and insanity with theatrical panache; it’s like listening to the audio file of a stage play. Does it work as a Combichrist song…？ Not really. But it does make for a hell of an interesting chapter in the album’s tracklist, and its poignancy and well transitioned choruses display an excellent level of songwriting, if nothing else.
Of course, there are less favourable attempts at experimentation: “Guns at Last Dawn” is by far the worst song on here, to the point where it’s nigh impossible to sit through after a few listens. It is sloppy writing in its purest form: setting off with a promisingly sharp electronic rhythm and a vocal back and forth with Burton C. Bell things set off in all the right ways, but unfortunately the track does a capricious hard turn and trades solid EDM beats for a horribly misplaced Ministry-riff-shredding transition that destroys any consistency to be had. Further problems surface in the form of a crux I feel has plagued the band since inception: goofy and awkward lyrics. Existential misery is a theme with dominance here, as well as mental health and depression. A track like “Lobotomy” has a topic with weight – talking about using drink as a way to subdue the anxiety and depression that plagues himself and the people around him is an interesting issue to purge, but it’s ultimately squandered on a string of party lyrics aimed at a common denominator. Hearing him say “pour me another tallboy, I’m not gonna start a fight”
sends a signal of laughter than one of earnest intentions. Meshing cryptic party anthems with something as pertinent as mental health in 2019 just doesn’t go well together, and its execution is something which leaves a lot to be desired. But more to the point, it’s a promising opportunity thrown down the toilet because of poor lyric writing.
As it stands, One Fire
is a mixed bag. I can see this being an album where every fan has a very different perception of it. Some might relish in the punk eccentricities of “California uber alles,” while others, myself included, will find it comically bad and a little too out there
for even Combichrist. It has a lot of really great moments that should make everyone happy, but be aware there’s a good chunk of songs that might not sit right with you, as well. The biggest detriment to One Fire
is that it doesn’t know how to rein ideas in to better suit the album’s context and mood. This is probably the most thematically dark offering to date, but sloppy lyrics and the occasional shift in tone dilutes some of the impact this album should have had. Putting all that aside though, if nothing else, One Fire
gets it right more than it gets it wrong, and it will be seen as a redeeming album of sorts.
FORMAT//EDITIONS: BOX SET/̶/̶C̶D̶/̶/̶V̶I̶N̶Y̶L̶/̶/̶D̶I̶G̶I̶T̶A̶L̶
SPECIAL EDITION BONUSES: The fan box set contains two additional discs, the first is a complied selection of songs from the video game Hellblade OST (which I fully recommend if you haven’t played it yet), the second disc contains remixes of tracks from One Fire
ALBUM STREAM//PURCHASE: https://www.outoflineshop.de/