For over three decades, the legendary Front Line Assembly has built its timeless music legacy with powerful, challenging sounds on themes such as futurism, transhumanism, and robotics, as well as cyber crime warfare and sci-fi. Their attitude towards music has placed them on top as one of the most influential electronic/industrial bands of all time. Unique and experimental in style, the group’s ferocious sounds are heavily inspired by advancements in computer technologies. FLA embraces a critical view about dystopic worlds, information overload, and the chaos and struggle of everyday life. Their remarkable sounds will inject the listener with positive, energetic attitude that’s required to survive the experience where dark dystopia ensues.
It was 1986, when Austrian-Canadian artist and electronic music producer Bill Leeb (later Front Line Assembly) decided to part for good with goth-industrial band Skinny Puppy – one of most influential and pioneering of the genre. Notwithstanding, Leeb’s background and participation in the band was minimal at that time, but he still drew from the experience. Ultimately, he thought leaving was for the best, as he had a different music approach that would only be possible with a new project; and he wanted to sing. cEvin Key, later revealed that Leeb left Skinny Puppy on amicable terms, although, some other sources say differently.
Bill Leeb was clear about the name of his new project before he even founded it. He made sure the message behind his vision was straightforwardly established as his new music’s ideology:
“The name came to me from just hearing people’s struggles all over the world on the news all the time. The only way people can fight back is to assemble in groups. We are fed so much information through the media that no one knows what to believe anymore. So Front Line Assembly means fighting the communications war.”
It’s important to note that FLA appeared in the same era of the rising of the cyberpunk movement. It is no coincidence, nor surprise, that FLA has developed their solid music legacy on cyberpunk attitude, free-type electronic devices, and feelings particular to that time. In 1992, during an interview, when asked how they started FLA, Rhys Fulber went further stating that “I think the average person nowadays is getting kind of tired of the same old rock and roll beat and so I think people might be looking for something a little bit different, something a little bit more current, full of elements that are happening around you each day”. Rhys has contributed immensely to numerous FLA’S acts, including songwriting, until 2006. Nowadays he has his own projects, but still contributes to Delerium, which is a second important project run by Bill Leeb. Throughout the years, with all the line-up changes, with all the members coming and going, there were noticeable people contributing to FLA’s development, besides Rhys Fulber, who became Leeb’s main partner at the very beginning.
Jeremy Inkel has contributed with FLA’s production and songwriting, since Rhys departure in 2006. He also has another project called Left Spine Down (cyberpunk/electro/industrial) where he is a programmer/keyboardist.
In these 30 years, much has changed in the line-up of FLA and its sound. There is an insurmountable amount of material to delve into. Bill Leeb runs various projects, the main project besides FLA being Delerium, which gained great mainstream notoriety. One of Leeb’s projects that got my attention, though, was PRO>TECH. It didn’t last long, but it makes an impression and is worth checking out. Recently, the group has been touring, despite rumors of the end of the band, there has even been mention of a new album. Bill Leeb is the only remaining member of the original line-up. Needless to mention, the band had its ups and downs and that their sound evolved into something completely different from the very beginning, but still FLA has managed to keep its essence and purpose. The raw and energetic attitude remains intact and one can tell by listening to their latest works.
Since the beginning, it’s obvious that Leeb wanted to place FLA’s music into a more accessible sphere, despite its sound’s complexity, niche-oriented style and dark aesthetic, either by making more dancefloor-friendly tunes or by adding dirty gritty distorted lo-fi guitar riffs to the songs, which was a trend at the time with bands such as Ministry and KMFDM. Always edgy and louder than ever. Needless to say, many fans were rather disappointed by the addition of guitars or a more mainstream attitude but is this experimentation that makes FLA stand strong. They simply dare to do it. The courage to take risks and having the maturity to grow bigger, regardless of how they sound, is a big part of Leeb’s experiences since the years spent collaborating with Skinny Puppy.
When discussing FLA’s musical cyberpunk core, the first thing there is to experience is Tactical Neural Implant.
The following is their most acclaimed and adored work, Mindphaser, one of the greatest industrial cyberpunk tunes of all time:
Mesmerised by a decade of faith
Flowers and remorse
A fading vision lost in time
Tragedy on course
Mindphaser is the second track of their proclaimed cyberpunk album Tactical Neural Implant (obligatory listen) and also a single. Some go further, claiming this song to be their “anthem.” Not only is this an outstanding tune, but it is also a song used for FLA’s promotional video which won Best Alternative Video at the Much Music 1992 Canadian Music Awards. The video depicts Front Line Assembly inserted into clips of the Japanese science fiction film, Gunhed. The video also received airplay on MTV. Mindphaser was also voted the sixth greatest industrial song of all time by COMA Music Magazine in their feature article “101 Greatest Industrial Songs of All Time”. Bill Leeb then shared some thoughts about the production of the video; he considered the songwriting process as quite unconventional, “I was shown some footage first”, said Leeb, “The lyrics were written to the footage, there was a lot of brainstorming between us and the people involved in the video”, added Rhys Fulber.
After having tasted every synthesized layer of high-tech dystopic nightmares sung as lullabies in the formidable Tactical Neural Implant, get ready for tough times ahead. Resist echoes from everywhere, in what only can be described as an area where there’s daily battle for survival and a call for attitude and awareness. A sound crafted with harsh synths clashing with electronic drums and dry noisy vocals. One thing that is noticeable in this song, and with Caustic Grip in general, is that it might take several listenings until one gets to feel the whole awesomeness of it, then get hit by it and never forget it.
Hard Wired was one of FLA’s biggest successes. It paid off. Artists like Biosphere and Haujobb remixed the track Circuitry, which is a must-listen. During its production FLA made extensive use of audio clips from a number of films, including these::
- True Romance
- In the Mouth of Madness
- The Puppet Masters
- No Escape
- Romeo Is Bleeding
- The Crow
- Lethal Weapon
- Alien 3
Some tracks use samples from Richard D. James songs, namely “Isopropanol” and “Dodeccaheedron” from his 1994 album Classics as well as “Isopropophlex” from his 1991 EP Analogue Bubblebath Vol I. Also, sound effects of the video game Doom can be heard on Hard Wired.
Barcode is pure energy, creating a vivid singularity experiment. It makes it worth listening to on repeat. An intro to a laboratory experiments with noise, building suspense is created by whispering electronic voices. Something builds each time, noisier, extreme. As the beats drop, a sequence of techno trance unfolds into a powerful, harsh experience of dance-techno-industrial apocalyptic atmosphere, until the overly synthesized voice in every word of a powerful message prevails in your mind.
Prototype is one of the greatest tracks that structure the sounds of FLA’s latest album.
Echogenetic is instrumental, robotic chaos, that evokes a remarkable battle of machines where the future is the arena. An imagery of T2 like-movies, flashes of tearing dystopic crashing and burning scenarios and an astounding ambient/robotic/noisy soundtrack capable of creating the most spectacular futuristic worlds of chaotic cyber beauty is simply thrilling.
Much of what Front Line Assembly became started with the desire to inject a good dose of positive experiences and new challenges into the industrial music world. Most of FLA’s music is composed with a graceful complexity of its own chaotic universe. It’s known to their fans that FLA sounds forces one to listen to it multiple times to acquire a more tasteful and pleasurable sense of its total. Throughout time, some of the changes were questioned by its fans, notwithstanding, they were necessary to the band’s growth. It is certain that Bill Leeb had all the energy of the world to maintain FLA, even though he had his other projects. The intention of sounding industrial/cyberpunk/electronic in an era where cyberpunk movement was peaking, worked well for FLA, as they were inspired by everyday life’s struggles, using what they had to craft, master, and pour all their creativity into it.
Another aspect of Front Line Assembly’s music that makes it all worth it, is that they’re honest and they had an objective in mind. That said, it is no surprise they rose and stood with the greatest bands of the industrial scene, gaining international notoriety, respect, and loyalty from their fans around the globe. Personally, if it weren’t for the impact of their music, I wouldn’t be writing this. I’m grateful and honored to know their music. Interestingly, I’m a huge fan of most of what they have released, so far.
FLA’s main foundation is clear cut: to be aware and ready to fight the struggles of the chaotic world of information. Its message is powerful, real, and timeless, as their music legacy is. Front Line Assembly truly understood, captured, and mastered the whole essence of cyberpunk in every beat and lyric. A band with assuring maturity and great determination willing to share its values and beliefs, like a brave strong army of assembled minds is all that the cyberpunk world needs. Long live FLA!
Learn more about Front Line Assembly and support their music: www.mindphaser.com