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Front Line Assembled

Tom Johnson’s fine review of the new Front Line Assembly album inspired me to dig up a ’98 profile of the band that included a few quotes from Bill Leeb:

Bill Leeb and ofttime partner Rhys Fulber have been remarkably consistent innovators with electronic music of every hue: from tribal ambient music in the guise of Delerium, to the traditional techno of Intermix, to the bone-crunching industrial of Front Line Assembly and Noise Unit, Leeb and Fulber have pushed barriers and created excellent music.

Bill Leeb was born in Vienna, Austria and moved to Vancouver, Canada when he was about 15. A violin and bass player, Leeb became interested in the electronic music of Kraftwerk and Tangerine Dream in the ’70s. He also felt energized by the punk and new wave of the Sex Pistols, The Clash, Wire, XTC, Killing Joke, and early Human League.

Leeb and his friends cEvin Key and Ogre (Kevin Ogilvie) formed Skinny Puppy as a loud electronic alternative to what they felt to be the insipid popular music of the early-’80s. Leeb, under the pseudonym “Wilhelm Schroeder,” played bass with Puppy (available on the Brap collection) until ’86, when he decided to go his own way. He formed Front Line Assembly with Michael Balch; synth-man Rhys Fulber occasionally aided the duo.

They released cassette-only albums (now available as Total Terror 1 and 2) and other albums in the late-’80s. Front Line found its sound when Balch departed and Fulber joined the group for ’90’s industrial classic Caustic Grip. Grip is a punishing, percolating miasma of body-beats, keyboard lines, samples, and distorted vocals railing against a fascist future in the mode of Front 242. Assembly uses machines to caution against mechanization, and drive the body into a frenzy. Grip varies enough rhythmically and melodically – especially on “Iceolate” and the great “Provision” (one of industrial’s greatest hits) – to avoid the sameyness of much of the genre (a Leeb and Fulber hallmark in any style).

’92’s Tactical Neural Implant incorporates elements of techno (“Lifeline”) and trance (“The Blade”) into the industrial (“Final Impact,” “Mindphaser”) mix and has a less-punishing feel than Grip, but moves the body and chills the soul as effectively. Another standard. ’92 also saw the debut of the pair’s Intermix incarnation, a trance project of beauty and weight.

In ’94 Front Line took industrial aggression to its logical conclusion by adding balls-out metal guitar (by Devin Townsend and Don Harrison) to the electronic beats and synths on Millennium. Though less distinctive (echoes of Ministry, Nine Inch Nails, Skinny Puppy) than other of their work, the album stomps, roars and grinds through standouts like the title track, “Division of Mind,” and “Sex Offender.”

The duo’s Noise Unit album (Strategy of Violence, also from ’94) similarly crushes the spleen in an enjoyably vicious manner. In ’95 Front Line switched to Metropolis Records and released Hard Wired, a varied and moody exercise in post-industrial electronic music, followed by the double-CD Live Wired in ’96.

Fulber was replaced by Chris Peterson in Front Line for Flavour of the Weak: more excellent post-industrial music peppered with touches of trip-hop, trance and electronica. Re-Wind is a nice collection of the band’s work on Metropolis.

Leeb began recording ambient music at home as early as ’89. “I have a keyboard setup at home; when I was in a late-night mood with nothing else to do, I’d paint soundscapes and make sound collages,” he says. Those collages – with Fulber joining in – developed into several Delerium albums. In ’97 Leeb and Fulber created their most fully-realized album (in any genre) to date, in the form of Delerium’s Karma: a wondrous album sampling exotic cultures and the recesses of time.

Reminiscent of, but transcending the time-and-culture shifting of Dead Can Dance and Enigma, Delerium’s tribal and chant symphonies are sublime, with sneaky verse-chorus-verse structure hidden inside. In fact, after exploring every manner of beat- and riff-driven music, Leeb and Fulber have taken to writing great songs. Aided by the voices and words of Sarah McLachlan (an elegant “Silence”), Kristy Thirsk (the gorgeous “Enchanted,” “Wisdom,” “‘Till the End of Time”), and the sampled voice of Dead Can Dance’s Lisa Gerrard (the ethereal “Forgotten Worlds”), Karma delivers one soul-satisfying song after another.

Leeb and Fulber continue to deliver the goods as they roll through various permutations of electronic music; from the early pre-sampler days with primitive drum machines and analog synths, to the cutting-edge digital present, they have made music for the love of creating it. “We’re like wild birds, we just fly around making music,” says Leeb.

About Eric Olsen

Career media professional and serial entrepreneur Eric Olsen flung himself into the paranormal world in 2012, creating the America's Most Haunted brand and co-authoring the award-winning America's Most Haunted book, published by Berkley/Penguin in Sept, 2014. Olsen is co-host of the nationally syndicated broadcast and Internet radio talk show After Hours AM; his entertaining and informative America's Most Haunted website and social media outlets are must-reads: [email protected], Facebook.com/amhaunted, Pinterest America's Most Haunted. Olsen is also guitarist/singer for popular and wildly eclectic Cleveland cover band The Props.

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