MuseWire BOOK SERIAL – Chapter THREE – Falling into the Abyss: Front Line AssemblyIndustrial rock flirts with pure noise, goes out on dates with electronica, and then shacks up with body-bouncing beats. Having embraced all three of these approaches, Front Line Assembly makes music that is aggressive, loud, abrasive, anarchic, nihilistic, and existential.

A fire in your loins comes screaming comes across the sky, to combine opening lines from Nabokov and Pynchon, and nothing can stand against the conflagration. No quarter will be given, no prisoners will be taken, and the end of the world will sound exactly like this.

Armed with unlimited watts of power, the ever-evolving band called Front Line Assembly (FLA) achieves catharsis amidst their own cacophony. Adopting a shrug and a sneer, neither of which disguises their dedication to The Big Beat, they scientifically program destiny into their synthesizers in order to arrive at a cold beauty that is at least as pure as any of the virgins in the audience.

Sights and sounds collide in alarming ways when FLA performs. Assaulting your eyes are evil clouds of smoke and a fear-inducing light display. As if that wasn’t enough, they also employ oversized televised imagery with the strobe set on “dumbfound.” During all the squinting and blinking, your ears (not to mention the rest of your body parts) are being mauled with the highest sound pressure level this side of a Saturn V rocket during liftoff, or perhaps a Motorhead concert. Wheeeee, you shout, although no one can hear you as the FLA artistes bring industrial rock to a quivering mass of black-clad humanity at the Key Club on the Sunset Strip in Hollywood.

Tortured History

Let’s back up a bit in order to then move forward. The genre called Industrial began when someone put a live Shure SM-57 into a blender and hit “Puree.” Or maybe it was when a disaffected youth decided he “had it up to here” with music lessons and figured he’d run his guitar signal through every garage-sale stomp box and re-built amplifier he could get his hands on, thus creating the sound of no tomorrow. Add some beats and you’ve got a style, a purpose, a political movement, and a way to get free beer at parties.

School making you feel alienated? Yeah. Work making you feel dehumanized? Yup. Family about as supportive as a dishrag? You got it. Well then, Throbbing Gristle and Nine Inch Nails are just right for you. How about a little Ministry? Sure. And Cabaret Voltaire, Front 242, Nitzer Ebb, and Einsturzende Neubauten, too. Oh yes. And, of course, Skinny Puppy. Which begat Front Line Assembly. Which begat the end of the known world, at least while listening to them.

When Wilhelm Schroeder (some web sites show it as Schroder) began his industrial music odyssey with Skinny Puppy in 1985, few people knew it would one day signal some form of the apocalypse. And even fewer could predict that it would have such propulsive and on-the-money beats that would enable you to dance to the whole thing.

Soon, Schroeder metamorphosed into Bill Leeb and Front Line Assembly was born. Under Leeb’s leadership, they became a vigorous force in industrial music, with a couple dozen albums to their credit. And that’s without considering their other bands and numerous side projects, most under the Leeb leadership; among which are: Blackland, Conjure One, Cyberaktif, Decree, Delerium, Equinox, Fauxliage, Intermix, Mutual Mortuary, Noise Unit, Pro>Tech, Revelstoker, Synaesthesia, and Will.

Noisemongers and nightbloomers all, they work their sick magic in ways that alchemists would kill to achieve.

Dramatis Personae

FLA often appeared to be a duo: Leeb with Michael Balch; Leeb with Rhys Fulber; Leeb with Chris Peterson. But there is a large cast in this multifarious multimedia production. Front Line Assembly recordings and live shows are frequently augmented by other musicians; and just for fun, here are some members of the joyous sound shapers: in addition to keyboardists Leeb, Fulber, Balch, and Peterson, you’ll find Jeremy Inkel, Jason Filipchuk, and Craig Huxtable; there are drummers Adrian White and Jason Hagen; and don’t forget guitarists Filipchuk, Jared Slingerland, Jed Simon, Devin Townsend, White, and Jeff Stoddard.

On with the Show

In the Key Club performance, drummer Jason Hagen expanded upon pre-determined beats established by the synth controllers while Leeb did a kinda-sorta Rock-God vocalist thing, prowling the stage and sometimes semi-dancing in an intriguing animalistic fashion. In between verses, he would toss out ominous asides such as noting that the room, or at least the stage, was not engulfed in enough smoke. I kept thinking that the fervently amped-up FLA followers were going to set fire to the building just to answer their leader’s wishes.

During a few moments in about every third song, guitarist Jed Simon worked a couple of chord shapes for all they were worth. The sound was clean and dirty at the same time, with his guitar processor dialed-in to approximately the same settings Tracii Guns uses in an L.A. Guns show at their most raucous, as in their punkier moments with the metalpop “American Hardcore” album. But I digress.

In the final analysis, this evening’s FLA onslaught all came down to the Leeb/Peterson programming and some impressive Peterson/Filipchuck keyboard work. It’s a question of sonic creation, aural augmentation and religious attention to a pulse-quickening BPM (beats per minute) aesthetic. Thumps, bumps and hip-thrusting thrumps are the order of the day. I mean night.


FLA indulges in gothic flourishes on their way to creating noises you’ve never heard before and tones you’ve always had in your head (but which remained desperately out of reach until now). Cathedral organs twisted into screams. Raindrops turned into percussive assaults. Car crashes made to be musical. Doom, destruction, intercourse and eruptions.

The mighty Key Club sound system was taken to the max with this show. The force of air from the speaker cabinets could be felt at twenty feet. It was ominous and oppressive, but it worked its enchantment with the crowd. And hey, who’s complaining? After all, the lights are pretty, the women are in a trance, and the end of civilization is swirling up from the speakers. Pretty damn cool.

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CREDIT: Photo by Daniela Vorndran from the Mindphaser site.

VIDEO: “Plasticity” by Front Line Assembly

Front Line Assembly – Plasticity

Watch this video on YouTube.


“Ambient Deviant Speedmetal Polka” … to be continued next chapter. You can subscribe to John’s articles and column via RSS (click this link), or read more from JSG here.

Excerpt of book serial is Copr. © 2012 by John Scott G – all commercial and reprint rights reserved. Originally published on MusicIndustryNewswire-dot-com before the site was re-branded in March 2015 as, a publication of Neotrope®.