The subject of power noise (or rhythmic noise) can be a tricky one today. Classic releases by the likes of P·A·L and Converter became classics by virtue of their uncompromising opposition to the melodic and tempered motifs which had been a part of post-industrial music for the previous fifteen years, while retaining focus on the beat. Do, say, Blast Furnace or Human Dislocation hold up purely because of their literal compositions, or does context make up part of their appeal? Either way, some seventeen years after the “power noise movement” was sweeping rec.music.industrial, acts like San Diego’s W.A.S.T.E. (themselves now ten years into the game) are still finding plenty of inspiration in the original template of granite-scraping textures and lock-step beats.
On their fifth LP by my count (with a handful of lengthy EPs the exact tally of W.A.S.T.E.’s formats can get fuzzy), the band integrates a bit more ambiance and squelchy programming between the static and crunch, which I’m just fine with: Warlord Mentality works best when it builds tension and drama from subtler washes and atmospherics. On the title track, an ambiguous looped sample is reiterated until it ceases to be thought of as a human voice and instead becomes part of the overall composition itself: half rhythmic, half melodic. Spots like these and the drums of “As The Empty Hours Go By” are proof that there’s plenty rewarding work to be done in this vein.
On the flip side, some of Warlord Mentality‘s more traditionally aggressive pieces can be a bit rote. The revamp of “Deadface” never really overcomes its stock stun-kick intro, and themes and samples dealing with torture and sexual depravity just don’t carry the same shock in 2014 that they did when TG founded the Gary Gilmore Memorial Society. Sure, acts like Manufactura and Navicon Torture Technologies carried that element forward into power noise and related subgenres, but much like the unrelenting assault of the power noise sound itself, diminishing returns can be a problem.
Summarizing my mixed feelings about Warlord Mentality is, of all things, a cover of The Offspring’s “Gone Away” featuring the croon of none other than ESA’s Jamie Blacker. The fact that a pop-punk cover is likely to cause more of a stir on a current industrial record than samples of purported torture speaks to the bind acts like W.A.S.T.E. find themselves in, and yet this is a strangely compelling take on a song I’d have been happy to consign to the dustbin along with innumerable others I associate with 90s summer-job radio. Again, it comes back to context: after so many years of blunt force power noise trauma, the melody of Blacker’s wounded baritone and harmonic synths is thrown into sharp relief. Not since Dismantled’s “Straight Up” has a cover by an industrial act benefited so much from its distance from an extant discography. A swerve like like might peeve some W.A.S.T.E. die-hards or be taken as a troll-job, but maybe in noting this I’m answering my own question regarding the currency of this sound in 2014. Like the earliest form of EBM before it, we can now speak of “traditional” power noise done by newer acts paying homage to the masters by reinscribing a classic formula. By that metric, Warlord Mentality fits the bill.