Into the Pit: 198: Front Line Assembly – O2 Academy Islington, N1 – 24-August 2017

Since Front Line Assembly returned to the live arena a bit over a decade ago – and indeed their first UK show in ten years when they played Infest 2006 – I’ve seen the band live a lot. I’ve seen them three times in North America (Ottawa, Montreal and Chicago), and in Manchester, and four or five times in London, as well as Infest in Bradford.

I’ve seen various line-ups, various setlists, with guitars, without guitars. Needless to say, I’m used to a bit of variety from the band. But even I wasn’t quite prepared for this show. It was an odd night generally. I interviewed Bill Leeb pre-show (see Talk Show Host: 036), where I found out that this show was to be FLA as a three-piece, which I immediately understood that it would be an all-electronic show, i.e. no guitars. Which removed a lot of their more recent material from the equation.

First, though, we had to get through Der Rest, a band who’ve supported various bands in London in recent years, and I still don’t get. Sure, they’re loud – very loud – and sound an awful lot like Killing Joke, but seeing as Killing Joke are still a going concern, why wouldn’t I just want to see the real thing instead?

Front Line Assembly: O2 Academy Islington, London: 24-August 2017

Despite it being the night before I and many others headed north for Infest (see also Memory of a Festival: 028 for the full coverage of that), there was a much-better turnout for Front Line Assembly than perhaps I’d expected – and from what I understand the London RevCo show on Saturday was well-attended too – and that turnout was rewarded with one of the best Front Line shows in some time.

Pared down to a three-piece felt like a “back to basics” hit, with any fat from the sound stripped off. Said three-piece was just Bill on vocals and occasional drums, Rhys Fulber on synths, electronics and occasional drums, and Jason Bazinet providing the solid backbone on drums alone. Just how hard-hitting the set was going to be was revealed from the off, too, with Resist punching holes in the wall from the first kick-drums.

Front Line Assembly setlist

The Chair (Tape Intro)
Killing Grounds
Neologic Spasm


Encore 2:

Even though the three-piece set-up made it obvious that it was all-electro for the evening, it still surprised me just how far into the past they dug. Half the set came from Caustic Grip and Tactical Neural Implant, both long-time fan favourites, and it wasn’t just Mindphaser and Resist played. The slower, more measured grooves of Remorse were so unfamiliar we were wracking our brains trying to work out what the hell it was for much of the song, and having checked up later, this tour is the first time it has been played live since 1992.

Other surprises popped up, too, including a rare outing for a track from Civilization. A sometime-underappreciated album (including by me) that I should maybe return to in more detail some time, almost nothing from it has been played live over the years, so the ghostly, middle-eastern voices and slumbering drums of Vanished were a welcome, unexpected treat.

Front Line Assembly: O2 Academy Islington, London: 24-August 2017

The rest of the main set was familiar FLA, not that this is ever a bad thing. The scorching, dub-led drops and pulverising drums of Killing Grounds and later on, the spiralling descent and roaring chorus of Deadened reminded – still – just how great Echogenetic is, and we ended out, perhaps a little surprisingly, with the downbeat, melodic Prophecy that I’ve rather grown to love over the years (I was never a fan of FLAvour of the Weak, generally).

Frankly, though, the two encores were worth the admission alone. It’s been a long time since I last heard it live (I reckon it’s 2006 since it was last in the set), but all it took was the first note of the synths to recognise the mighty Gun, the gradually accelerating three-drum attack sounding absolutely immense, particularly when the intro finally gave way into the main body of the track itself.

I realised afterward, too, that for a song written twenty-five years ago, it has some rather uncomfortable parallels with what has been going on in the United States this year under Trump:

March to the rhythm / Fists in the air / Statues torn down / Burning flags everywhere

Atrocity starts now / The weapons parade / A nation in turmoil / Reflected by hate

Politics aside, though, it sounded absolutely awesome, and followed by the almost regulation close of Mindphaser (by a long chalk one of the most recognisable, and best, electro-industrial songs ever written), I’d have been cool if things had ended there.

But there was to be a second encore, and if there hadn’t been surprises enough over the evening, Bill pointed out that Iceolate was the first song he and Rhys wrote together. Not a bad place to start for such a long partnership, and for such a popular song by the band, many of us were rather surprised that it had been two decades since the band last played it live. Particularly when it sounded as lively and as punishing as it did here. Did Rhys Fulber ever come up with a better synth-backbone to a track than this one?

For a band now into their third decade, and showing no signs of slowing down, this was an astoundingly good show. The band were all in good spirits, clearly still enjoying what they do, and the fans were just as receptive and wild about the band. The late, exhausting night immediately before Infest might have kicked my ass the following day, but it was a worthy sacrifice. I awaiting new material with, once again, positivity and excitement.

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