Front Line Assembly: Best 3 Songs per Album, Part 2

The Front Line Assembly catalog is so large after almost 4 decades of activity that I decided to split them out into two pages.  Click here for page one.

FLAvour of the Weak

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I recall this album getting a bit of backlash upon release because of its techno influences, but I always thought that was overblown and really this is a solid release with lots of good tracks.  I’ve always felt that Front Line Assembly songs can sometimes be a bit long and would sometimes benefit from shorter intros and not overstaying their welcome, and in that regard this album is one of their most indulgent yet with every track clocking in at over 6 minutes, with some songs having intros that last 2 minutes or more.

Best three tracks:

  • Comatose – This song has a great, catchy bassline during the verses and then a nice sing-along chorus.  My only complaint would be that when Leeb sings “Who stole by the hand” it always reminds me of Oops Upside Your Head by The Gap Band.
  • Corruption – Even though I would prefer that the band relegate their instrumentals to their side projects, and even though I was complaining about songs being too long, this 8-minute instrumental that opens the album is pure gold.  As with most of their instrumentals, it builds slowly over time until you finally hit a grand payoff several minutes into the song.  This song is a great example of their oft-used formula.
  • Life=Leben – I had a hard time choosing the third best track on the album because there are a lot that could qualify, but in the end I went with this track because the bassline during the verses is so great.

Worst Song:  Honestly I can’t choose one.  While not every song deserves top billing and this isn’t my favorite FLA release overall, none of the tracks are outright bad.  I just wish some of them didn’t meander for so long.

Implode

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When this album came out I was absolutely floored by it and thought it was their best in quite a while, with perhaps a unity of songwriting vision that we hadn’t heard since Tactical Neural Implant.  My opinion has cooled slightly in the years since, largely because the album has too many darn instrumentals.  Although admittedly they’re really good instrumentals.  But regardless, some of my all-time favorite FLA songs are found here.  Best three:

  •  Retribution – The Implode tour was the first time I saw Front Line Assembly live, and it was the live drumming of the great beat in this song which completely won me over on this song.  Incredibly energetic verses, aggressive chorus–this song would be on my list of all-time FLA favorites.
  • Prophecy – This may have a slower tempo than the stompers I usually prefer, but it’s incredibly powerful with the choral sounds giving it an epic feel.  Another that would absolutely make my Top 10 list of FLA greats.
  •  Unknown Dreams – I went back and forth on this pick, but I like the uniqueness of this song with the sorta funky beat, the little scratching moments, and the overall chill feel.

Worst Song:  I have to go with the hidden final track, Stalker.  It’s an ambient piece that doesn’t go anywhere for me.  I believe this was used as the opening track on their Implode tour and it worked better that way.  Plus, I absolutely loathe the concept of hidden tracks.  They were awful on cassette because you either had to sit through silence for a few minutes or else fast-forward to try and find where the hidden track started.  They were awful on CD because you either had a lot of empty space at the end of the last non-hidden track, or else bands would insert dozens of empty tracks in between so if you wanted to skip to it you’d have to hit the skip button many, many times.  And for what purpose, really?  I’m not sure if this practice is extinct or not in this era of people grabbing individual tracks online instead of full albums, but it should be.

Epitaph

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Epitaph was the opposite of Implode for me.  It originally flew under the radar for me and it wasn’t until a good while later that I recognized how great it was and now I consider it among their best overall releases.  I remember when this came out there were internet rumors that it would be the final Front Line Assembly album, especially since the first single was called Everything Must Perish.  Luckily for us, they were just rumors.  Anyway, this is so full of great songs that it was really hard to identify a top three, and I think if I revisited this on a different day I could easily choose different songs as the best:

  • Everything Must Perish – This song takes a lead spot largely because of the fantastic double chorus, each part full of feeling and great to sing along with.
  • Dead Planet – This is probably the breakaway song on the album, the one that people are most likely to know, but that’s for good reason.  It’s energetic and aggressive, with a great chorus that’s made for singing along with.
  • Conscience – I originally wrote this song off because it sounds too much like they were trying to recapture that magic of Prophecy from the previous album.  I still hear strong similarities, but I guess I’m a sucker for that slower tempo and those deep, aggressive bass sounds (the song Epitaph also has a similar bassline).

Worst song: It’s easy to go with the hidden track Submerged, like I did with the hidden track on the previous album, but I’ll go with opening track Haloed.   I like the chorus, but the verses don’t do a lot for me so I’m mostly just waiting for the next chorus.

Special Mention:  The song Providence, from the single Everything Must Perish, is a really interesting and unusual FLA track with samples of female vocals taking the spotlight.

Civilization

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Civilization is a strange album for me — sometimes I’ll find it brilliant and inspired, and other times I’ll find it a bit dull.  It is definitely a bit more laid back than their usual fare, though.  While on several albums I have trouble paring the good stuff down to three best songs, on this one I have the opposite problem – identifying three standouts from songs I like but don’t necessarily love.

  •  Psychosomatic – Although I said the album was more laid back, this opening track definitely bucks that trend and in a way gives a bit of a false impression of that the rest of the album will sound like.  But this song is genius, from the catchy percussion at the start with the retro-sounding orchestra hits to the piano riff and to the vocal pattern and lyrics that beg you to sing along.  Amazing song from start to finish.
  • Fragmented – Another of the more energetic songs on the album, where the verses and chorus nicely complement each other.
  • Vanished – Probably qualifies as a ballad more than most Front Line Assembly songs, it sounds nice and the female vocals in the second half are a nice contrast.

Worst song:  Strategic – It’s aggressive which I usually like, but I find it a bit harsh and the bassline doesn’t really grab me.  But at least it’s only 2 minutes long.

Artificial Soldier

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For some reason I always think of this as one of Front Line Assembly’s lesser albums, with only a few standouts, so it hasn’t gotten as much play.  But in reviewing it for this page, I’m finding that maybe I haven’t given it enough credit.  There are a lot of solid songs here, although I still like other albums better.  Best three songs:

  • Low Life – My hands-down favorite from Artificial Soldier, very energetic with a great beat and with aggressive vocals for you to scream along with.
  • Humanity (World War Three) – There’s something about this song that sounds more like “classic FLA” than the rest of the release but I’m not sure I can point to a specific era that it hearkens back to.  One of the most interesting bassline on the album, at a time when the band was starting to lower the range of their bass sounds to a point that I sometimes think is too low, and also using sounds that are less interesting to me.  But Humanity has that classic FLA bass sound which has always been one of my main draws.
  • Beneath the Rubble – Another aggressive track with a solid chorus.

Honorable Mention: Buried Alive, Social Enemy

Worst Track:  Both of the songs with guest vocals, Future Fail (Jean Luc de Meyer of Front 242) and The Storm (Eskil Simonsson of Covenant).  I like both of those singers, but something just doesn’t work for me when other vocals are used in FLA songs.  It needs to be Bill Leeb’s voice.  Both of these songs sound to me like the music and the lyrics were done in isolation from each other and then just plugged together at the end to make a complete track.

Improvised Electronic Device

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For some reason this album, like Artificial Soldier, hasn’t gotten nearly as much play with me as previous albums and so I go into this less able to match song titles with the actual songs I can call up in my head.  The guitar here is much more prominent, in many tracks conjuring up memories of Millennium, and that probably something to do with it – just a more noisy album overall and I listen to FLA for the cool electronics, not the guitar.  It sounds a bit like they were trying to make Millennium Part 2, but I don’t think it’s as successful. Plus, when they start focusing on guitar they end up doing more bombastic choruses which don’t appeal to me as much. Best three songs:

  • Hostage – Great chorus on this one, and probably not coincidentally, much less guitar than found on most other tracks.  However, I am starting to notice a certain beat that they have used a lot on the past 4 or 5 albums.   For instance, the song Attack the Masses has almost the same beat as Hostage. I can trace that beat, or variant at least, back at least as far as Retribution on the Implode album.
  • Shifting Through the Lens – The first single from the album and maybe the obvious choice, but it’s actually pretty catchy with a good chorus.  And, again, less of a focus on guitars.
  • Day of Violence – I give this one the third spot largely because of the melodic riff that comes in and out on this song, but also an interesting chorus which doesn’t follow their usual patterns.  Oh, and less guitar than other songs.

Worst Song: Stupidity.  I’m not just calling this out because of the Al Jourgensen (Ministry) guest vocals, even though with the previous album I said guest vocals don’t really work with FLA songs.  On Stupidity, though, it doesn’t even sound like FLA music.  It sounds like either Al took over and wrote most of the song himself, or else Bill Leeb and company were doing their best to mimic the Ministry sound for Al’s benefit.  It’s maybe not a terrible song, but it’s not really an FLA song in my mind.

Echogenetic

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When this album first came out, I was disappointed.  I know that it is highly regarded, but for me I found that too many of the songs had replaced the characteristic catchy basslines with just buzzy noise that had no melodic qualities to latch onto.  I’ve since identified that there are more good tracks on this album than I first thought, but I still  think a fair amount of these songs are just not that great.  Best three tracks:

  • Killing Ground – Perhaps the obvious choice as the first single and what is still a staple of their live show, but it’s just really catchy and makes you want to bob your head and stomp your foot.  However, I find the lyrics particularly simplistic for an FLA song and that annoys me a little every time I listen to this one.
  • Exo – This to me sounds more like a classic Front Line Assembly track than anything else on the album, with the cool bassline and the emotional chorus.  I wish more of the album sounded like this track.
  • Deadened – For the same reason as Exo, that it basically sounds the most like what I expected from an FLA song before this album came out.

Honorable Mention:  Ghosts – this song is all about the great chorus.

Worst Track: Echogenetic.  It just plods along and never really goes anywhere.

Airmech; Warmech

I’m listing these a little out of order.  Airmech came out before Echogenetic and Warmech came out after.  But they are similar albums, in that they are exclusively instrumentals and they were written for video game soundtracks.

I actually don’t mind these albums at all, and I particularly like Airmech, but I don’t think either one should be a Front Line Assembly album.  They should have fallen under one of the myriad of instrumental side projects that Bill Leeb has, or under a new one.  But I understand why they’re not — the video game company was looking to benefit from the Front Line Assembly name.

My main animosity toward these albums is just that they held up the band from actually creating “real” Front Line Assembly releases, so if you don’t count these then we had the longest dry spell between albums in the history of the band.

I’m going to skip choosing best tracks for these, just because they’re really in a different category and to me aren’t “true” FLA releases even though I recognize that they really are and I do like some of this stuff.

Wake Up the Coma

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This is the newest Front Line Assembly release, almost 4 months old as I write this in June 2019.  I flip-flopped on this album several times, thinking it was mediocre to thinking it was amazing but finally settling on it not being a very good FLA album.  I just hope it won’t be another 6 years (if you don’t count Warmech) before we get another FLA release.

My problem with this album is that there’s not much going on.  The songs are very minimal as FLA goes — not as many elements happening at any one time, and also not much movement as you go through the songs – largely just the same riffs all the way through.  If feels to me like more attention was paid to the production quality than to actually writing good songs.  There aren’t really any terrible songs here, just a lot of ho-hum stuff with stellar production values which makes it hard for me to identify three standouts, but here’s what I came up with:

  • Tilt – This has of a cool, menacing chorus.  The verses sound vaguely familiar though, as if they’re repeating themselves from an older album.
  • Wake up the Coma – While this song sounds almost like a different band due to the guest vocals by Nick Holmes, it’s one of the few tracks on the album with a prominent melody for you to latch onto.
  • Mesmerized – This song doesn’t really go anywhere, it’s just that same bass and beat the whole time, but they sound cool together and can get you stomping.

Worst Song:  I want to give this to Living a Lie because of the stupid lyrics, but there’s a worse song: Spitting Wind.  I love Chris Connelly’s voice in some projects, like Revolting Cocks, and I hate it in others.  Unfortunately, this is a case where I hate the vocals and that completely ruins the song for me.

 

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