To this listener’s ears, there hasn’t been a stronger showing from a reunited industrial band than the barnstorming clinic that Portion Control have put on since ending their fifteen year hiatus in 2002. Since then, the British duo have done nothing but roll up their sleeves and administer uncompromising electro-punk beating after beating. On one hand, these records do feel as though Portion Control have picked up where they left off as though they’d never left, on the other, the fact that they’re trading in completely current-sounding motifs and themes saves them from accusations of cheap retreads which sound hopelessly out of date. If you’ll indulge me in wandering out of the industrial neck of the woods for a moment, the closest comparison I can think of is the reemergence of Mission Of Burma (coincidentally also in 2002), which had perhaps the archetypal college rock band consistently showing both why their music was still fresh and necessary twenty years on, but also how time had changed them. Apologies for the lengthy ramble about a band who’ve now been reactivated for a full decade, it’s just that we haven’t had the opportunity to talk about Porcon yet on the site.
In any case, if you enjoyed Portion Control’s last outing, 2010’s Violently Alive, you’ll feel well served by their latest slab, though there are subtle differences. While Violently Alive was naked, snarling, and unrestrained in its aggression, there’s a tense, seething quality to Pure Form‘s anger. Appearances are being maintained, but just barely. The surface tension is nigh unbearable, but Portion Control ride it out for a full hour of menacing, beat-heavy fun.
Opener “Blows” maintains a steady pulse, but keeps pushing into new territory, moving from vista to vista. Here some gear-grinding percussive tics and bass tremors, there some shimmering synth leads, then some swarming, foreboding pads. “Deadstar” is up next (I’d make a crack about the title, but since John Whybrew and Dean Piavani have been cracking heads since Eskil was in short pants, I’ll refrain), the first of many tracks to avail themselves of a core, classic EBM bass and drum arrangement (many of these are in the same vein as “Amnesia”, an instant classic from Violently Alive). Some, like “Point Blank”, keep that groove front and center for their duration and make for solid cuts in the old-school, minimalist vein, while others, like “Katsu” and “Deadstar”, use it as a launching pad for woozy klaxons and filters which ratchet up the queasy unease.
Those who prefer Portion Control’s roaming, experimental compositions will find plenty to like as well. While there are none of their lengthy, sprawling “Onion Jack” pieces, “Chosen Seed”, “Something Fierce”, and the closing “Chrono Form” (among others) shift back and forth between breaks and bubbling loops, churning samples and charnal drones. That these two sides of Portion Control – their punchy dancefloor-ready numbers, and their more experimental collages – sit so comfortably together speaks well not only to their sequencing and sense of pace, but also to the diversity woven into the legacy they continue to build. None of this is to say that Pure Form is for initiates only; if you’ve never checked out one of the most formative and underrated acts to delve into dark electronics, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with starting smack-dab here.
It’s damn impressive that an act old enough to be a formative influence on Skinny Puppy has struck upon a sound which balances the strength of their pedigree with utterly modern-sounding elements. I can’t blame you if you think that sounds like promo copy BS; that’s pretty much the balance that every formative band who mounts a return tries to achieve, which usually means strained guest appearances and just-past-their-sell-by-date, flavour of the week trends (to go again with the rock analogue, think the New York Dolls or The Stooges, and did you hear the stinkers those bands released in the last few years? Woof.). But absolutely nothing sounds forced or contrived on Pure Form. There’s none of the usual “I really want to like it because it’s Legendary Old Band X, so I’ll latch on to just about any positive trait it has” awkwardness with Portion Control. All you get is pure mastery, pure innovation, pure form.
Every one of these tracks is musically amazing great but I find the vocals are the weakest part of every track. Though I think it would certainly be a lesser record without words, there’s something about the production here that fails. It’s as though they went modern on everything except the vocal stems which still recall Front 242 – that hollow, shallow vibe. But maybe that’s ‘a thing’ and maybe I am missing the point.
Yeah, you are.