Front Line Assembly
In 2012 Bill Leeb’s long-running industrial project Front Line Assembly released AirMech, the instrumental score to a giant mech combat video game from Carbon Studios. The record was well-received by fans of the project for its modern production and sleek, futuristic design, and was very much a precursor in spirit to the exceptional Echogenetic LP that followed in 2013. That same sensibility is present is on new LP WarMech, a direct sequel to AirMech and a continued exploration of how the modern era of Front Line’s production and songwriting aesthetics can be applied to soundtrack work.
Like AirMech, the sound of WarMech integrates a healthy amount of bass and dubstep elements, but diverges in how those sounds are applied. The syncopated rhythms and LFO-wubs are less pronounced here, fitting into a broader constellation of musical influences. You can hear the interplay between those rhythms and the timbrally rich pads, rapidfire sequences and naturalistic string sounds that run through the exceptional “Force Carrier”, or even more subtly beneath the surface of the vast soundscape of “The Imminent”. Indeed, Leeb and company find room within each track to explore numerous ideas; witness the transition from upbeat club-ready beats and rubbery bass into half-time breaks and ultimately to harmonized synthwave style bleeps and washes on “Heatmap”. As befits a soundtrack many of those motifs carry over from one song to another, as the aforementioned hints of synthwave blossom into neon-lit Outrun electro on “Molotov”, whose echoes in turn can be heard at the outset of complex and emotional closing track The Creator. Focusing in one any one genre marker or stylistic choice runs the risk of not seeing the forest for the trees, and underselling just how masterfully Front Line are able to bring all of it together into a cohesive work.
That said, work that emphasizes deeply crafted and considered sound design will comes as no surprise to anyone who’s been tracking recent FLA releases, but the record’s tempos, builds and denser arrangements makes WarMech feel even more considered and expansive than its predecessor. While that can sometimes make things a tad laborious (the average run-time of the record’s twelve tracks is over six minutes), on the whole the slower pace brings the sound design, upon which so much of WarMech‘s impact rests, into closer focus. The somewhat carefree blips which dance across the surface of “Rip Sensor” offset the closely considered chiseling that’s gone into the slabs of bass which sit in the track’s dense center, and the slow and murky procession of that bass across the track allows that detail to be examined from every angle. That languid pace may seem at odds with the record’s origin as the musical accompaniment to a fast-moving RTS game, but the granular detail of every sound on the record certainly befits the technophilic process of crafting, upgrading and detailing a mech.
With songwriting and production credits from Bill Leeb, the late Jeremy Inkel, Sasha Keevill, Jared Slingerland, and Craig Johnsen, WarMech is the culmination of the sound this incarnation of the long-running project has been pursuing for close to a decade. Whether or not there’s more material still to emerge from this configuration of the band, the untimely passing of Jeremy Inkel in 2018 makes WarMech the symbolic end of an era, and consequently makes listening to the album something of a bittersweet experience. As a major contributor to FLA and creative partner to Bill Leeb from the middle-2000s onwards, Jeremy Inkel was an architect of the sound which runs through the record, and its success in welding complex melodies, mechanical precision, and deep design to FLA’s electro-industrial framework is part of his artistic legacy. Its success is his success, and the album stands as a document of and testament to his talent and skill.