We Love You
Metropolis Records/Out of Line
The total ubiquity of 2005’s Everybody Hates You – a record whose dancefloor presence is so universal that even if you never heard Combichrist outside of your local clubnight, you’d still know almost every song on it – tends to mask the fact that Combichrist has been at least three different bands over the course of the last decade. The early, wholly electronic years are distinct in sound and presentation from the current day; Andy LaPlegua is undoubtedly still at the helm of the project, but the CC name has gone from a moniker for one of his solo projects to representing a full-band, at least insofar as the project’s marketing is concerned (cynically, I suspect that bands are easier to sell to the broader audience Combi has been courting the since 2010’s Making Monsters and their run opening for Rammstein in Europe than solo production projects). In 2014, the Combichrist identity is that of a mid-level touring electronic metal combo. That’s a cross-section that theoretically appeals to both heavy rock audiences and listeners primed for aggressive electronics by the mainstream’s acceptance of mid-rangey brostep, which now serves as the car commercial and FPS video game soundtrack du jour.
We Love You is clearly a record written to be performed by the project’s current incarnation: I can’t imagine the bombast of these songs scaling well to a smaller show (despite some recent live dates that featured solely LaPlegua and percussionist Joe Letz on keys). There’s nothing wrong with that posture in practice, really; older Combi material has never really benefited from having guitars grafted to it in a live setting, which is for better or worse pretty much the best way to experience the project. Breaking it down to a binary of “you’ll like it if you like the guitars/hate it if you hate the guitars” is simplistic but useful: there’s not much here for the latter crowd. The agenda is mirrored in the arrangement of opener “We Were Made to Love You”, where a highly promising synth and sample intro is washed away in a wave of distorted chording and half-time drums, the electronics providing wubby accents and occasional glitching.
If we accept that the sound of We Love You is just what Combichrist is doing right now, and acknowledge that they execute it well from a technical standpoint (which they do: you can’t take much away from the production or performances in terms of polish), then the question really becomes whether the songs suit the band’s current purpose. The answer is a resounding “sometimes”. By far the record’s best moments are the ones on which totally distance themselves from the sort of hard-dance jams Combi used to be associated with, and invest fully into the identity they’re trying to sell us. “Maggots at the Party” is a big dumb anthem that revolves wholly around a speedy rock drum break and catchy processed riff, with LaPlegua coming across like a cyborg Andrew WK, right down to the sly nods to pop dressed up in rocker leather. Contrast it with the uninspired “Every Day is War”, essentially a rewrite of the band’s own club hit “Get Your Body Beat” right down to the squealing lead sound, the added guitar the one major deviation.
It’s a noticeable divide that plays out again and again during the listening experience. Pre-release single “From My Cold Dead Hands” comes across as a retrofit, the sole song with no obvious guitar it was an obvious choice for an attempt reignite the club scene’s love of Combichrist. Its dancefloor friendly beats feel anemic next to the over-the-top “We Rule the World Motherfuckers”, a juggernaut that dwarfs the less committed songs of the album with its grandiose arrangement, and one of the moments where Combi’s world-beating energy as a live act can be heard most clearly. I even think the piano-led power ballad “The Evil in Me” works well for what it is; if nothing else it showcases Andy’s ridiculous charisma as a performer and his ear for melody and phrasing, the song’s climactic strings and sustained wall of six string noise lending it the sort of straight-faced gravitas that any song like it needs to hit home. It’s not the kind of song you would ever hear on an older Combichrist album, and that’s what makes it seem totally appropriate here.
That those succesful tracks can share an LP with loops-extended-to-song-length like “Fuck Unicorns” and the Tool-lite of “Retreat Hell Part 1” would seem to indicate that Combichrist may not yet be at home in their current day skin, grasping at whatever ideas seem good in the moment. Closer “Retreat Hell Part 2” seems to reinforce that: an eight minute long stream of consciousness rant in song form, it sounds like LaPlegua defensively shooting back at his critics, and more tellingly, at ex-fans who have abandoned and denounced the project in recent years. It’s out of step with the persona of the angry rock god he portrays himself as elsewhere, an internal struggle that lies at the heart of the LP. We Love You is the sound of Combichrist banging hard against a glass ceiling, trying to muscle their way up and onto a broader stage while standing on the shoulders of fans that could very well be alienated in the attempt. It’s a precarious place to be creatively, and it’s only when they act like they’ve already succeeded in conquering everything that the possibility of breaking through seems real. Combichrist loves us, now they need to stop caring whether we love them back or not.