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Front Line Assembly Interview

By the time you read this, Frontline Assembly's new album Tactical Neural Implant will have been released. If you've already purchased said item, then please bear with me, as I will be trying to describe it to the uninitiated. I'm not just interested in the new album: I talked to Rhys Fulber about the other projects we all love just as much, or perhaps not. Namely Intermix, Noise Unit, Will and Delerium.

Anyway, Tactical Neural Implant. What an excellent title! Pertaining to the nervous system ... it certainly makes me twitch. It's an apt title, the latest strategic step in FLA's deviously commendable plan to crush the feeble-minded dance that dominates today. This will eventually be achieved from within, using inside information, and sometimes insider techniques. FLA are the bug in the system that is the music industry. To use an old cliche: they're the virus that transmits itself insidously, invisibly. FLA make people nervous. The product they make is new, and to some a little intimidating. To be new is to intimidate?

"I'm not really conscious of that. We're not going out of our way to intimidate people. We're just pleasing ourselves really. I think it's good to generate a reaction of any kind, good or bad. The biggest worry, for me, is music just leaving people blank. When there's no reaction, that's weird. I like people to say 'I like this' or 'I don't like this'. But we don't go all out to make nasty sounds, use samples of F-words and things like that."

To electronic music practitioners and consumers, what FLA do isn't nasty though. It's almost natural. We're a different type of fan. Me, I know I'm turned on, I'm impressed, I'm interested and fascinated by samples, lyrics and effects that are out of the ordinary. That's the point of this music. The moral majority, the 'ordinary' listener, just will not make the effort with these songs. The vast majority react negatively before they've even heard the music. As does the media, the newspapers, television and radio (exceptions including MTV and Musicbox (a little), Snub TV and on occasion, Rapido. Even Colin Dale's three hour slot on Kiss 100FM has been slashed by a third). There's not time, it seems, for innovative electronic music any more.

"Yeah, I know. That's why Depeche Mode are where they are and we're where we are! No offence to them, I like a lot of their stuff, but they don't have that intimidation factor, if you want to call it that."

Rhys certainly isn't bitter; not as sour as I feel at times. Perhaps Rhys' attitude of resigned acceptance is mirrored to an extent on Tactical Neural Implant. The tracks Outcast and The Blade are hugely influenced by hip-hop and techno trends. Don't let this put you off! The new FLA will still be abhorrent to most ears. Perhaps only techno fans with a little imagination, those who don't need ecstasy to get high, might appreciate these tracks. This goes for Intermix as well. During our conversation, Rhys stressed the importance of accessing a new audience via the Intermix project. But I don't see how new people are going to have the chance to even hear such music in the first place. It's like, there's a conspiracy afoot: ignore hard, aggressive, challenging sounds at all costs! Then Rhys astounds me.

"They played Intermix on Radio One, John Peel played it, which I thought was a bit strange because he'd probably never touch FLA! I'm not worried about it though. If no-one buys it, we still had fun making it."

This revelation came as quite a shock to me: I gave up listening to Peel about three years ago when he became fixated with grunge guitar pop and world music. Still, I bet he won't play it again, and he definitely won't touch Tactical Neural Implant.

Although markedly dissimilar to the previous album, Caustic Grip, it remains a punishing, rewarding listening experience. Final Impact, which opens the album, follows the Iceolate style - smash, bang, wallop! Mindphaser and Gun are reminiscent of No Limit, fast, oiled mechanics. There's no electro-thrash here. FLA have redefined themselves, jettisoned much of the gore, and hitched a ride on the new technology of today.

"With Intermix we wanted to do new things. Long before we started the new album we knew we had to do something different. We got some ideas for FLA songs during the Intermix sessions, for example, Outcast."

The Intermix project, plus a couple of songs on FLA's latest are evidence of a softening of approach, maybe a maturing of the band's outlook on life. Perhaps they don't have to strive for extremes any more. They've already proved, through their different projects, just what a different approach can result in.

"We keep everything separate because we want to keep the visions of each separate, the identity of each project. It's nice to work on a bunch of things and then do a new FLA album. It keeps everything fun for one thing! It keeps us interested, you learn things that you wouldn't if you did the same thing all the time. I think you can grow musically during a short period of time if you do lots of different things. I'm doing something musically almost every single day in one form or another; I don't know what else to do with myself! On the FLA album we were spending six hours a day at least on it. Before I came to Europe, I was writing some new Will songs."

Will's new release, due early summer, is Word Flesh Stone, and, again, it's different from the last. Pearl of Great Price was put together over three years, therefore much of the material was already dated when released. In Rhys' view at least. Not so Word Flesh Stone. I ask a question designed to intimidate. Which of the various projects would Rhys like to see the most successful?

"I don't know. Probably a toss up between FLA and Will. FLA is Bill [Leeb]'s baby, and Will is my baby. I like doing both. It's hard to say one or the other, and it's dangerous to do that!"

With the exception of Will, I do notice a disturbing similarity between projects nowadays. Stylistically, they're merging. Noise Unit : FLA : Delerium : FLA : Intermix.

"Noise Unit is now defunct. We got on really well with Marc Verhaegen, but we just went our separate ways. He's got a kid and his life is taking a more domestic turn. He likes music as a hobby, and has no aspirations as a professional musician. He does have some wonderful old beast synthesisers though!

"Recent Delerium, now that's confusing. Euphoric was recorded over a year ago actually. In retrospect we would have put it under the Intermix flag. It was done so long ago that at the time we never realised what we'd be doing a year later."

There had been talk of a FLA/Pankow collaboration through the mail, a prospect that makes the mouth salivate. But,"I don't think that's going to happen. It's too much hassle, we're too busy with all these other projects."

What fascinates me personally is all these different outlets, all these different worldviews, these different philosophies. To me, this just reinforce the strengths of electronic music. It can mirror so many different aspects because it has a truly adaptable nature.

"Delerium is how we meditate. We try to make an atmosphere, an ambience, that we can have on while we're lying around! FLA is dealing with current global matters. I won't say media as such, but things that dictate how the music comes out. FLA and Intermix are definitely urban. Will is more elemental, more spirtiual, I won't say religious. These are the basic images and perceptions."

This is definitely how these various personas are perceived in Britain. FLA et al are coming out of the underground a little, inch by inch, groove by groove. They're a reflection, albeit a little twisted, of what's happening now, and hopefully a precursor to the future of music. Tomorrow's music today. Really.

Frontline Assembly's Tactical Neural Implant is available on Third Mind Records (TM 9269) or Roadrunner Records (IRS 983.469) now. Related releases include Delerium's Spiritual Archives (Dossier Records) and Euphoric (Third Mind) and Intermix's Intermix (Third Mind). Interview March 92 by and copyright © Matthew F Riley.