Front Line Assembly has always hovered near the top of the industrial music genre. For some reason, they’ve never broken through to mainstream consciousness like their contemporaries like Ministry and Skinny Puppy and I’m not sure why. They’re not as abrasive as Skinny Puppy and not as metal as Ministry, falling into a niche that is more accessible sounding but also keeps that sharp industrial edge.
Their second album, State of Mind, is an interesting insight into their early days before they developed a sound that could be could their own.
Released in 1988, State of Mind is part of what would be a very busy year for the band. Not only did they release that album, but also another album, Corrosion, and an EP, Disorder.
Now, I’m not sure why Front Line Assembly was so busy in this short span. It may be because after they formed in 1986, following founding member Bill Leeb’s departure from Skinny Puppy, just had a lot of material to record. Maybe it was the only time that they could get the group together in one place. Not telling, but in the span of a year, they released their first album, The Initial Command, and the three others I mentioned.
There’s a great variety in State of Mind, with each song having its own individual feel. This is a testament to Leeb’s natural talent for song writing. I emphasize “natural” because going into his previous group, Skinny Puppy, he was not a trained musician. So, being able to come out and put together such a variety is an impressive feat, at least as far as I’m concerned.
During State of Mind, Front Line Assembly is credited as just two people: Leeb on vocals/mixing and Michael Balch on mixing. I’m not exactly sure what “mixing” is.
When I said “variety” I am not kidding.
Things kick off with “Inside Out.” It’s about as straightforward as you can be with an industrial song. It has a steady beat, plenty of samples and processed vocals. While this may sound pretty obvious, the song has a lot going for it. The bass drum sounds nice and full, there’s long melodies and the samples, which are voices, are essentially treated as another sound to be manipulated as an instrument.
Outside of this song, there are two tracks that really stand out to me.
The first is “First Reprisal” which is also the first track of the album. Leeb’s vocals are very metallic sounding. Not as in heavy metal, but like hitting a sheet of metal in an empty and vast factory. The rhythm is good to and you’ll find yourself bobbing along with it before you know it.
The other is “Landslide” which features clean vocals by Leeb. It also features less-samples than average compared to what has come so far. His approach works and the music is good, which is about all you can ask for in song when you get down to it.
Going through the rest of the album, you hear a band trying to work out what exactly its sound is.
An example of this is when you listen to “Consequence,” “Resistance” and “No Tomorrow” you can definitely hear something reminiscent of the sound explored in the next decade by artists like Velvet Acid Christ and :wumpscut:.
On the other hand, there are songs, like “Burnt Soul” and “Malignant Fracture” which will also remind people of Skinny Puppy’s early output (think Bites), which Leeb was a part of, albeit not as clean as a production.
That’s not a knock. These songs aren’t ripoffs. But, they are in the same vein.
So, when you listen to State of Mind, plan to go on a bit of rollercoaster of sounds and genre.
I do like State of Mind, though, I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone except for completists. This is an album early in a bands career where they’re still trying to find an identity after its lead songwriter separated from a band that was one of the giants in the genre at the time.
When I say that Front Line Assembly is trying to find its identity, I don’t mean that in the bad way. Leebs is a great natural talent and even though there’s a lot of diversity to swallow here, what he pushes out sounds great.
Sadly, as I write this, I’ve learned that Front Line Assembly long-time keyboard player Jeremy Inkel has died at the age of 34 due to complications from asthma. I haven’t reviewed any albums with him on it yet, but I do plan to review 2013’s Echogenetic later this year. R.I.P.