Hard Wired is the logical convergence of FLA’s two dominant motifs: metal riffs and synthesizer experimentation.
As the temperature rises, songs of sunshine and summer love bombard us from every direction. There’s no better time to rediscover the brooding electro of Vancouver’s Front Line Assembly. Established following Bill Leeb’s amicable departure from Skinny Puppy in 1986, Leeb and his rotating ensemble of contributors would in time rise to the pinnacle of the genre with their more melodically-inclined industrial manifestos. Released nearly a decade into the project, Hard Wired is the logical convergence of FLA’s two dominant motifs: metal riffs and synthesizer experimentation.
With Rhys Fulber, Leeb maintained a prolific schedule during the early ‘90s. Released in 1992, Tactical Neural Implant remains a favorite among the FLA hardcore. Far more accessible than EBM precursor Caustic Grip, TNI was primed for the darkwave/techno/electro DJs that were beginning to bring UK’s rave culture stateside. 1994’s Millennium was a drastic shift toward a more guitar-focused metal affair not meant for the dance floor. Like many electronica releases from this time, Millennium introduced FLA’s appreciation for the horror/sci-fi movie sample. Taking the brutality of the latter and filtering it through the psychedelic-ambiance of the former, Fulber and Leeb gave life to the ten-track Hard Wired.
Landing just as America was beginning to adapt to the world wide web, the album foreshadows our current dependence on (some would say addiction to) the internet and technology. Through instant messages, pop-ups and app notifications, every moment of our existence is filled with digital distractions. When surrounded by thousands of others on a busy street, that wall of noise is synonymous with the chaos of these early electro-industrial singles. The robotic assault at the commencement of “Paralyzed” is a look inside the creation of this new hard-wired species — a process that eventually leaves the organism numb to its environment. The cyber-kinetic dreamscape of “Barcode” further solidifies this notion of man/machine singularity. The track’s hardstyle beat is one of the album’s most crushing, but no matter how intense the instrumentals may be, the narrative finds its way back to the surface.
It’s difficult to decipher where Fulber and Leeb fall on the singularity debate. Championing a sense of individuality within the system, album opener “Neologic Spasm” is transfixed on the many worries of the human existence. In a Terminator-esque twist, “Condemned” and “Infra Red Combat” predict some catastrophic event between master and machine. But FLA is not just warning against this hard wired existence; “Mortal (Instrumental) ” is a zombie ballad that will still scare the kiddies on a Halloween night.
Within this context and digital noise, it can be easy to miss the glitches that refine this beast’s character. A ticking clock, piano strokes and orchestral fills are organic elements that escalate the urgency that builds through the release. We cannot and should not avoid this technology, but we must not blindly embrace it; this is the message of Hard Wired. Twenty years removed, we continue to see the implications of the web, which gives a doctor the means to operate on a patient thousands of miles away, but also gives those with evil intentions the means to surveillance and data breaches. Twenty years from now, humanity will continue to find new challenges as this evolution continues.