posted on 8/2012 By:
Rarely are my critical faculties so easily bamboozled as when it comes to black / industrial metal. Whether by virtue of some chromosomal defect or suppressed trauma or just general dumbness, there’s simply no genre of metal that gets my sympathies almost automatically. Black / industrial metal is like an untended garden, or a sad child, or an unloved and discarded piece of painstakingly handcrafted furniture; it just sits there (I imagine), waiting to be weeded, or coddled and fawned over, or carefully sanded and varnished and given pride of place in a beautiful sunlit room where brilliant people say brilliant things over drinks with ice cubes that never melt.
Point being, I’m a total sucker for black / industrial, even when (and maybe particularly when) it’s not very good. All of this redounds both to the benefit and detriment of France’s Blacklodge, because I continue to root for them even as I am forced to admit that what they have done with MachinatioN is not particularly grand.
Although Blacklodge devoutly earns the black / industrial tag, the band’s music leans almost exclusively on the latter half of the equation; that is, MachinatioN is much more “drop ecstasy and rave for Satan” than “cut your flesh and worship Satan,” much more Front Line Assembly than “Funeral Fog.” Despite the fact that the black / industrial quasi-genre has produced more stylistic diversity than one might expect, Blacklodge’s inspirations are few, and only all-too-clear: Mysticum’s In the Streams of Inferno, Aborym’s With No Human Intervention, and Dodheimsgard’s 666 International. (One might also look to the nearby Poles in Iperyt for an example of a peer doing a vaguely similar thing, but with infinitely greater menace.) Blacklodge’s inability to improve upon, or even faithfully replicate, any of those pioneering albums is the most severe indictment against the band, even if MachinatioN is far from unlistenable.
Additionally, unlike many of their forebears, Blacklodge has never seemed all that interested in being a black metal band. The aesthetic is there, and the genre spills out into the vocal style, song structures and drum beats, but the guitars are generally much closer to Ministry or KMFDM than Mayhem or Katharsis. Precisely because of this distance from typical black metal territory, when it seemed, on 2010’s T/ME, as though Blacklodge was embracing that distance, allowing its program to be devoured from within by a more insidious virus of immersive industrial noise and beckoning dark melody, it was a real cause for celebration to these thirsting ears. Even if the meat of T/ME was superficially similar to preceding albums with its club / EBM-baiting disease beats, the band had relinquished itself more fully to machinism; compositions broke off at non-Euclidean angles, and the swathes of noise encasing the highly-processed guitars extruded into the listener’s own reality at unpredictable intervals.
This is why it’s so disappointing that MachinatioN retraces its steps back to 2006’s Solarkult. It means that MachinatioN ends up trapped in a double regression: not only does it backtrack on the progress made with the previous album, but it also cannot fail to recall a particular moment in the development of industrial / metal fusion, stuck somewhere in the mid-90s, when the aesthetic choices regarding techno-dystopias arranged along the spectrum of The Net / Hackers / The Matrix. In short, Blacklodge’s futurism has not aged well; for further proof, please note that MachinatioN features the sampling of a modem dialing up.
MachinatioN certainly improves upon Solarkult, both in the strength of the production and the variation in drum programming, which runs through a nice pantheon of electronic micro-styles from cyber-blastbeats to skittering breakcore, from more traditional drum and bass to swaggering big beat, from punishing gabba to disco-ish two step, and so on. None of the compositional advancement displayed on T/ME has been carried over to MachinatioN, however, and the album mires itself in frustratingly bland songwriting, overreliance on low-impact samples, and an almost complete lack of memorability.
Blacklodge’s drum programming makes the argument for me. The programming operates in two modes: either quarter-note anvil strikes that almost always feel like they’re dragging their heels, or insanely synthetic 300 bpm rubbery bass blasts. Listen to the first minute or so of “Neo.Black.Magic” for a demonstration of this lack of any midground. “Antichrist Ex Machina” explores the unoccupied center a bit, but not enough, and Blacklodge hasn’t learned to effectively explore the center of the black / industrial canon. Plenty of their peers have already occupied that center, however, and to wonderfully unhinged result, which leaves Blacklodge an anachronism within an already witheringly unhip “scene.” But I promise, guys, I’m still in your corner, with sandpaper, varnish, and sparkling cocktail banter queued up and waiting for your triumph.
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