Black Rain/COP International
The first voice you hear on FGFC820’s third album is a sample of former Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau, which is to say the least unexpected. Having listened to the album a few times though, it makes a certain kind of sense; the reference to a particularly dark period of Canada’s history dovetails with a growing understanding of the actual politics of the Queens project. Homeland Insecurity isn’t an enormous sea-change for the hard EBM duo (made up of Rexx Arkana and Dräcos), but it does have some intriguing new ideas that challenge some of the pre-conceptions formed by their first two records.
The obvious sonic comparisons to Funker Vogt still hold true, beyond the pre-occupation with military themes there’s a surfeit of four on the floor bangers with big synth riffs and harsh, processed vocals. Arkana and Dräcos clearly grasp how to apply the formula; you can keep your songs comparatively simple, so long as there’s some kind of memorable hook to latch onto. Consequently songs like “Insurrection” and ‘Revolt Resist” (both of which appeared in different forms on the Defense Condition 2 EP earlier this year) are considerably better than anything FV has done recently, largely by virtue of having huge, sticky leads. That does end up cutting both ways, “Lost” and “Sound and Fury” flirt with some interesting piano and keyboard sounds that get obliterated when the huge lead comes crashing in. That doesn’t cripple the songs as club fodder by any means, but there are moments (like when the string sounds that appear late in “Crush) when I found myself wishing FGFC820 had let some of their subtler production choices breath a little.
Accordingly, it’s in some of the more laidback moments on Homeland Insecurity that FGFC make a case for themselves as capable producers beyond making big dancefloor tracks. “Relapse” and “Love Until Death” are slower and more personal numbers that draw a direct line to the classic dark electro of the 90’s, allowing melodies to develop more subtly in tandem with their more emotional feel. There’s a corollary there with the interstitial instrumentals that appear throughout the album, free of any concerns beyond providing some continuity between songs they feature some of the most obvious advancements, particularly “Resolution 11” which features dark sounding pads and a plucky reverbed synth lead. There seems to be a pretty clear segregation between the experimentation on these songs and the club jams production-wise; I’d be interested to hear the results if the two worlds were reconciled more cleanly in the space of a single track.
To be totally honest, the harsh EBM style vox used by FGFC have always been something of a stumbling block for me. The songs I’ve really liked by the group in the past (the ubiquitous “Killing Fields” and “The Heart of America” from Law & Ordnance come to mind) have always had an adjustment period, where I had to become accustomed to the vocal delivery before I could really get into them. The same holds true here, I find myself distracted by them, and only once I get to know the songs and lyrics do they begin to click properly. Of course there are plenty of bands I enjoy who use processed and distorted voices in the same spectrum, Suicide Commando and Tactical Sekt for example. If I was going to grasp at a reason, I’d say it has to do with the contrast with the distinctly clean and anthemic sound they tend to favour in their arrangements. That said, I went into the record expecting them and I think there are cases like the aforementioned “Relapse” and the hard and fast closer “Doctrine” where they work effectively, driving them home rather than detracting from their immediate appeal.
If it’s the vocals I find difficult, it’s the lyrics themselves that I find the most engaging about the LP. War is as cliched a topic as there is in this specific branch of EBM, usually addressed in with facile statements or vague platitudes. So it’s doubly refreshing to be able to point to a song like “In Country” which opens with the couplet “We’ve got a message for the DOD/We’ve come to question their integrity”. I don’t know whether it’s an indictment of so much of the industrial scene’s lyrics that hearing such a straightforward, concise statement grabs my attention, but I find the lack of ambiguity refreshing; it’s an identifiable position on an actual real-world issue. Similar sentiments echo across much of the album, far from the jingoism FGFC820 have been accused of, there’s a clear thread about the troubling state of the US’ foreign relations, and the direct effects on its citizenry. Once picked up on it gives an added dimension to the record that I find appealing. Whether they fall on the left or the right of the political axis, FGFC820 are questioning the justness of matters as they currently stand in a direct fashion. That’s worthy of some consideration, and ultimately something of a signpost: beyond the dancefloor, there’s an inkling of some genuine Sturm und Drang to be found on Homeland Insecurity.