Right, I’ll own up now. I’ve never been a fan of concept albums. Although the album is loosely based around a story, it has many parallels in our current time. And with the recent releases of films about dark future worlds (Aeon Flux and V for Vendetta, of course…), it perhaps could not arrive at a better time.
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Frankly, though, let’s ignore the concept a moment, as it doesn’t really make any difference as to whether you enjoy the album or not. It really is full-force. The “backline” of the bass and beats have been pushed right up-front like an artillery raid, and as the first few tracks speed by it feels like you have been battered by one. Carnivore should be reasonably familiar now, and it’s familiarity perhaps lessens the impact a little as the opening track – good as it is. Bite The Bullet is even harder, and better – with a brutal heads-down thrash intro, stomping verses, a stuttering bridge and some clever sampling and electronic effects filling in the gaps behind the astounding heavy rhythm.
Losing Control keeps the pace up, again with many clever effects masking the simplicity of the track, although a breather is allowed by a somewhat unexpected piano break, normal service resumes soon enough. One thing that the first three tracks prove is the switch in approach on this album. There is some outstanding guitar work, with in the main less electronics to mask it. It feels more…organic.
Fading Light (in my opinion at least) is in part the albums first misstep. The intro and verses are fine – a slow, crunching groove, with the multi-tracked dual vocals offering good variety – but the soft-rock, lighters-aloft chorus just seems to me to jar too much. Others may love it, but to me it just doesn’t work. A final mention again for the superb guitar work – the solo fits this slower track well. Far better is following track Sirens, another slower-paced track, a lot more melancholy, and the addition of the female backing vocals is a masterstroke.
Following that is the rather short The New World, which in some universes would be a great little pop(ish!) song…while The War Inside is perhaps the pick of the entire album. I can’t put my finger on exactly why, but it simply sounds more complete, and has the best balance of everything thrown into the entire album. Freefall bears hallmarks of classic early-90s Ministry, and is a great shortsharpshock to bookend the first half of the album.
Perhaps one of the most interesting and unexpected tracks on here is Dead Man’s Army. A long instrumental interlude, in effect, with some inspired sample use based around the idea of an army marching, but not all are as militaristic as you might think. The track’s somewhat calmer atmosphere works well as a breather in the centre of the album following the bludgeoning assault of much of the first half. Bleeding Edge throws in yet another curveball, with an accordion (!) weaving in and out of another track made all the more powerful by it’s fabulous chorus and stuttering verses.
Second Class Citizen brings a another clear influence to the table with, more than anything, a PWEI-apeing vocal attack, that distracts the attention far too much from the rest of the track. The Plague that follows is again rather short, and is also rather strange, but has an odd, catchy rhythm to start with that works, inexplicably, before the track peters out too quickly with a twinkling of electronics like the stars fading out of sight. Aftermath is another of those tracks that just seems to pass by without much going on, although on closer listen perhaps has a little more going for it than first appears.
Underneath The Flesh I like a lot, another off-kilter rhythm with yet another killer chorus, although the somewhat prog-like guitar solo seems again ill-fitted. The Error Of Our Ways is a fantastic slower track, built mainly around the drums, which thunder through the track that otherwise is very sparse indeed. And in my opinion, that should be where the album ends – instead to end it is another dip into insipid ballad territory with Full Circle, which just feels somewhat forced and even twee in parts.
So overall, it’s not a bad album. At sixteen tracks and sixty-two minutes, it really is rather long, perhaps too long. There are many, many ideas here, some of which hit the bullseye and then there are others that miss completely. As I mentioned at the start, there is a loose concept here, but it is used sparingly which stops dragging the album down into the mire, which can only be a good thing.
What is clear though is the sign that the two principal writers are going in very different directions, which at points takes tracks on unnecessary diversions and puts too much into the mix. But when the ideas mesh together, they do it really well, so it is a little frustrating that it perhaps doesn’t happen quite enough.
Out of the albums difficult and long (for this band, anyway!) 14-month gestation period has come an album that despite it’s flaws is a real leap forward, even if it only fleetingly meets the vast heights that they had set themselves.