We appear to be in something of a transitional period in the scene nominally called “industrial”. Many bands I have looked upon as relative newcomers for some time have now been around for five or ten years, few new bands are coming through, and even the clubs and DJs appear unclear on what they want to play (this post on ReGen this past month articulates so well what I’ve been trying to say for a couple of years now), at times ignoring “industrial” and playing whatever form of dance music is “cool” with the drughounds at the time. Hence hearing seemingly more hard-dance, psy-trance and fuck-knows-what-else than actual EBM and industrial, the latter two relegated to mere sideshows in clubs that prominently advertise the genres.
I’m not sure which was leading the trend – said clubs and DJs, punters, or the bands. A number of bands have significantly changed their styles in recent years – be it Apoptygma Berzerk, all-but-jettisoning their sky-gazing, anthemic electro-industrial-goth for a more melodic and mainstream crowd-pleasing electro-rock, or Dismantled, who started out taking the lead from Front Line Assembly’s intricate and hard-hitting industrial soundscapes, and quickly moved into more, er, poppy territory that never really seemed to fit.
And it has been a while, too, since the last album. When I’m Dead was the culmination of five years of apparently solid work, a fourth album in that time, and frankly Gary Zon by that point sounded creatively spent. There wasn’t a great deal to write home about or recommend for those of us who had loved his previous work, nothing of the clever sonics, the spiteful lyrics, instead just a weariness that suggested that he had had enough. So when I finally got to see Dismantled play a short set in support of Combichrist last year in London, it was notable for two things – one, that Gary Zon had clearly got his groove and his fire back, and two, that the new song aired absolutely slayed.
That song was Kill or Be Killed, and it appeared some way in advance of the new album on Dependence 2011 at the turn of the year. The sound of Zon coming out fighting, and in one five minute song manages to make Dismantled sound brilliant and relevant once again. A brusing, thundering dancefloor-aimed missile, Zon takes on his detractors and dares them to stare him down.
Happily this isn’t the only song on the album so vital. Opener Insecthead is a gesture of defiance, a blitzkrieg of beats and snarled vocals as he fights to dig himself out of whatever hole he is seeing himself in, and Dead On Impact so, so deserves to a dancefloor hit – it rips out of the traps with no introduction and doesn’t let up until the last note (a previous failing of Dismantled songs has been a tendency to stretch out songs for far longer than necessary – here the strongest tracks all are snappy as hell). Excess takes a little longer to get going, but once the chorus kicks into gear, it is clear that this is a groovy, powerful electro track that despite being a song about dealing with the blur of the morning after the night before, sounds like one hell of a lot of fun.
Some of the mellower songs are great, too. Disease is understated and delicate (and all the better for it), while the explicit imagery, dismissive put-downs and jagged beats of Bathroom Floor are actually something of a fascinating character sketch. Scrape The Bullets is another character sketch, seemingly a song about an unnamed killer killing “friends” and others – made all the more chilling for the news footage sample of a hysterical survivor of a US mass-shooting that introduces the song, and the songs kiss-off: “Watch the news tomorrow – you’ll know my name“. The shame, despair and darkness contained within this song is quite, quite unsettling.
Ok, so it isn’t all perfect. The Whore Inside Me sounds a little too close to previous Dismantled material (more of an update to a previous song, rather than anything new or unfamiliar), and Can’t See The Top is a bit overwrought, really. While Black Heart is the obligatory piano-led ballad that closes the album. There is always one on a Dismantled album, to be fair, so it isn’t unexpected, but it isn’t all that great, either.
Less of a comeback and more a fightback, and, minor griping aside, this is broadly a fantastic album. No ironic swipes at scenesters, no tongue-in-cheek attempts at making a pop “hit”, this is Gary Zon getting his head down pouring his emotion into producing the album he has been threatening to deliver for some years. In fact, there is a parallel with the astonishing Aesthetic Perfection album A Violent Emotion from a few years back (my album of the year 2008 – a channeling of negative emotions into a torrent of creative elements that results in an artistic peak. Welcome back Gary Zon and Dismantled: I’ve missed aggressive industrial music as good as this of late.