Review Summary: Too safe for its own good
Front Line Assembly started celebrating their 35th year of activity by presenting us a brand new album right away. The group’s line-up was reduced to the core collaborators, Bill Leeb and Rhys Fulber for the first time since 1996’s Hard Wired
. As the title implies, Mechanical Soul
takes the band’s trademark industrial/EBM style into darker corners once more. The two have carefully constructed each track to flawlessly perform akin to a well-oiled machine, whereas Leeb’s vocals are dried out of any emotion and wrapped in multiple effects. The only issue, however, is the lack of dynamics, unpredictable elements or sounds in order to make them essential in FLA’s catalog. At least, Wake up the Coma
included different sonic directions that diversified the listening experience.
Overall, Mechanical Soul
contains dense structures and tight arrangements, usually relying on a foundation of cyclical, hypnotic beats and sequencers. Highlights include ‘Glass and Leather’, featuring ghastly vocals over pounding rhythms. Luckily, a round of immersive synthesizer layers are added along the way, enriching the hazy atmosphere. Meanwhile, ‘Stifle’ displays some muscle due to Dino Cazares’ guitar contributions, which could have been pushed up front for further impact. Nevertheless, the slightly eerie sound scapes building during the vibrant choruses manage to complement the former’s riffs and leads. Also, ‘Unknown’ blends smooth, club-ready grooves with slightly lighter vibes, followed by ‘New World’, a mid-tempo, Depeche Mode-ish ditty. Compared to other tracks here, the latter is rather subdued and even shyly optimistic for Front Line Assembly. Another interesting moment is the post-apocalyptic closing number, ‘Time Lapse’ which blends psybient arpeggios with ethereal noise and cyborg vocals. It could very well sum the entire idea behind the album and artwork. These are the few surprises this record shares. The remaining cuts fall into a comfortable, perhaps even lethargic state for them at times. Front Line Assembly always maintained exploratory elements during their career, yet lately it seems Fulber and Leeb might need someone to join in and shake things up. The two work great together, these songs are all solid at the very least, still you can’t help thinking they are capable of more. Mechanical Soul
is not a disappointment per se, but the artists delivered us an LP too safe for its own good.