I got into Restricted Area at a very odd point in the long-running Swedish EBM act’s history. They’d just released 2011’s Core Excess, an LP which found sole member Peter Elm breaking out into far smoother and more melodic territory than any previous moment in his discography could have indicated. Tracks like “Voyager” were about as straight-up and sweet as synthpop could get. At the same time, the pure anhalt Underdog EP was appended to Core Excess, perhaps a promise to long term fans that Elm wasn’t permanently abandoning his roots. Then, after an odds n’ sods EP, it was radio silence for five years. Now, Elm’s returned with a solo-project record which doesn’t so much resolve the tension between EBM and pop in his work so much find a new dialectic.
The grind and stomp of many of Hardline‘s tracks feel like a direct callback to the aforementioned Underdog release. You’re getting no-frills, rapidly dashing basslines and straight 4/4 kicks throughout, and the yobbish anti-authority tone of “Wapenrustning” and “Edge” put the record in the company of Spetsnaz and Container 90. Even on the less explicitly anhalt-directed tracks Elm still finds a way to bring swaggering menace to the fold. Opener “Black Sky” and the closing title track bring broodier ornamentation to slower EBM cuts, demonstrating Elm’s talent for fuller arrangements.
But the more one pays attention to the manner in which the tighter and more anxious of Hardline‘s tracks are packed together, the more an unmistakable new acid house influence begins to emerge. Sure, a track like “Kampftrinker” isn’t going full-bore with the squelchy 303 the way Elm’s countrymen in The Pain Machinery did on Surveillance Culture or Restart, but the increasingly staccato synth stabs the track shuffles through are only a jack of the body away from the original article. “Chaos” is a slower track, but its detuned runs up and down the keyboard feel all the woozier and more unnverving for it.
It’s tough not to want to read Hardline in comparison to Elm’s work as Restricted Area in order to find some clue or portend of that project’s future, but even taking that history into account, the record does feel like the product of a new approach, deserving of and requiring its own moniker. Even the most straightforward of trad-EBM can be given new life with a subtle new shade, and Elm’s proven to be a handy colorist in that regard.