You’d be hard-pressed to find many legacy industrial producers as prolific as Rhys Fulber has been of late, let alone those who have as many projects on the go (and that’s not even touching on his production and remix work for other artists). In addition to the recent speeding up of Front Line Assembly’s schedule and the reactivation of Noise Unit, Fulber’s been turning out solo material at a frenetic pace, and much of it operating in decidedly different territories than those in which he first established himself, a trend which continues with new LP Collapsing Empires.
Presented as a companion piece to last year’s thoroughly enjoyable Brutal Nature, Collapsing Empires does share with that record an interest in linking Fulber’s extant work with ambiance and ethereality with his recent interest in dark techno. But even moreso than its predecessor, Collapsing Empires zooms in on those two extremes at the expense of any middle ground between them. There’s nary a trace to be found of Fulber’s pioneering electro-industrial sounds on the stripped-down stuttering kicks of “Concrete Cogitation” or on the the accurately titled “Dronegail”, for instance. It could be happenstance, but the fact that Brutal Nature saw release on Fulber’s own FR Recordings while Collapsing Empires is being handled by Adam X’s decidedly techno-focused Sonic Groove seems fitting in this regard.
As anyone who’s been tracking his solo work could have predicted, Fulber’s own mixing and production skills port over well to these polarized techno and ambient tracks, with equal fine-tuning in each. Listening to the title track on headphones, the lightly bleeping melody blended in perfectly with the echoing, distorted rhythmic base of the track. But on my home stereo that same track sent the former lighter sounds ricocheting about the apartment, almost as if they were coming from another room or system. That could just be more happenstance, but there was something pleasantly uncanny about the effect nonetheless. Similarly, but on a more compositional note, the way the pulsing sirens on “As Far As Dreams” almost fall in and out of polyrhythmic sync with the percussion keeps a woozy sense of unease running through the whole track.
It’d be very easy for Fulber to be coasting by on nostalgia (for FLA, for Delerium, for Conjure One, or for some other hugely influential project to which he lent his talents) at this point in his career. Instead, he’s had the gumption to test his mettle in the well-established dark techno marketplace, replete with its own codes and mores. As with his previous records, Collapsing Empires finds himself standing out in that field, migrating his skillset and instincts over to his new climes with panache.