First there was Skinny Puppy, then there was Front 242, and then came Front Line Assembly. FLA always seemed kind of like a thinned-out Skinny Puppy, which would make sense since main-man Bill Leeb left Skinny Puppy early on (under the pseudonym “Wilhelm Schroeder.”)
Skinny Puppy’s brand of cacophonous, abstracted electronic industrial music forms the basis around which Front Line Assembly was built, but it’s really Front 242, the “electronic body music” pioneers, who seem to have inspired Lieb and FLA the most. What I loved about FLA was that it focused less on the dance-based aspect of EBM that Front 242 was known for, incorporating more of the cinematic flourish Skinny Puppy exhibited in some of their best moments. While Skinny Puppy eventually collapsed, after Dwayne Goettel died of a heroin overdose, and Front 242 sputtered to a halt, both in the mid-90s, Front Line Assembly kept at it.
Initially burdened with a sound very obviously derived from SP and 242, the later 1990s proved a vital time in which Front Line Assembly allowed itself to grow quite a bit. Fellow founding member Rhys Fulber left to pursue other project, giving the reins fully to Leeb. Softening the abrasive, hard-hitting beats and incorporating more of the sweeping, grandiose new-age treatments Leeb investigated with his Delerium project, Front Line Assembly was finally able to slip out from under the charges of being second-tier industrial gods and, after a bit of a struggle evident on Flavour Of The Weak, find new footing with its own unique sound. With the help of Chris Peterson, Leeb fashioned three of the band’s most diverse albums, if not all fully satisfying, but Fulber rejoined the fold to record Civilization.
The result was one of the band’s best works — fusing the orchestral majesty that blossomed under Leeb’s direction with the hard-hitting, beat-heavy origins associated with the band and genre. While I had been looking forward to the band following more in the direction of their last album, the amazing Epitaph, over time I have found that Civilization is a more satisfying, intriguing, and just plain fun album to listen to. Leeb is still the dominant leader, but it’s clear that Fulber’s rejoining has re-centered the band around its more harsh origins.
While it echoes the sound of the early period electro/industrial movement, it is very clearly a forward looking endeavor, incorporating the latest sounds, beats, and textures. It’s far too vital to be retro, and far too fun to be written off as a cash-in on the next big genre-resurrection.