Ask someone to describe what Mindless Faith sound like, and chances are that your answer will be “they mix guitars and electronics”. It’s a weird dichotomy to be defined by in the industrial scene, kinda like describing what a punk band sounds like by saying they’re a three-piece; it’s broadly descriptive without being specific at all. I suppose what folks are getting at when they bring it up in relation to Mindless Faith is that they rely equally on each side of the guitar/synth coin. MF’s particular iteration of the time honoured formula (the handful of industrial acts that have genuinely crossed over to mainstream recognition have all relied on it to some degree, and whole schools of bands have risen and fallen around it as a central tenet) walks a fine line: not a rock band with some keyboards or an EBM group with a few chugga-chugga riffs in the mix, but an altogether different, more refined animal. Beast might be a better word actually – even in its more subdued stretches Chris and Jason Sevanick’s material skews aggressive, the somber moments existing to emphasize the hard hitting and high-tempo nature of their best stuff. Their fifth album Just Defy stays that course to good effect; it’s expertly crafted and enjoyable even when the songs themselves are a little thin.
There’s no shortage of examples of Mindless Faith’s formal expertise on the LP, in fact it’s the most prominent thing about Just Defy. Take “Over the Fence”; starting with broad chugging guitar that belies how much territory the song actually covers, it transitions smoothly from dancefloor ready sequences through into a perfectly pitched chorus and into a half-time breakdown, punctuated throughout with ghostly female vocals and a very dirty synth lead. Stripped down to its basics the song itself isn’t that memorable melodically, but it’s in the execution that MF make it a monster. “Love is a Dirty Word” and “Next to Last” fare similarly; rock hard, processed riffage sitting in a deep pocket of electronic bass and drums, their occasional stylistic dalliances (a bit of acoustic guitar here, a touch of tasteful dubstep there) helping to gussy up what might have otherwise been fairly workmanlike bits of songwriting.
Now all that isn’t to say that this is an all-sizzle, no steak sort of affair. Opener “The Thirst” is a grinding, compulsively listenable bit of work with a chorus as good as any they’ve ever recorded, and “You Don’t Know Shit” is the kind of razorsharp, cynical anthem I wish KMFDM hadn’t forgotten how to make. It’s in those songs that Mindless Faith’s prowess beyond the studio is plainly apparent, when the immediacy of their approach is matched to material of equal potency. Therein lies a small amount of frustration as a listener; I want everything they do to leverage both equally, and while there’s no genuinely bad songs, I wish there were fewer moments where the style ends up being the substance.
I have a hard time finding any fault with Just Defy when I’m listening to it, it’s only in trying to pinpoint specifics after the fact that the lack of memorable hooks on a lot of the songs (especially in the backhalf) becomes apparent. Being enjoyable in the moment isn’t a fatal flaw by any means, and while I have my doubts as to how compelled I’ll be to listen to Just Defy from beginning to end in the future, I can’t fault the skill that went into making it. When Mindless Faith put their considerable talents as producers and programmers to work on decent songs, the results are good. When they do the same with good songs, the results are great.