Front Line Assembly have become the duo of Bill Leeb and Rhys Fulber - a multi-talented electronic music force that has to be reckoned with. These two names may not mean much to some people, but either together or on their own, these men are linked with the groups Intermix, Delerium, Noise Unit, Cyberaktif, Will and of course Front Line Assembly. I don't think there are many other artists that have ever produced such a superior quantity of diverse electronic music in such a short space of time.
Probably most well known for Front Line Assembly the duo actually started off as separate entities. In the early eighties Bill Leeb originally used the pseudonym of Wilhelm Schroeder when he started out with the Canadian band Skinny Puppy (see issue zero) but he soon left to pursue his own alternate future. At first he recorded some solo material via small cassette only labels, the best recording out of the two or three releases is known as Total Terror.
Front Line Assembly came about through three separate albums released in 1987 on three different labels. The Initial Command was the first album on the Belgium label KK Records. State Of Mind followed soon after on the German label, Dossier, and finally there was Corrosion on the British Third Mind label. The music was essentially a partnership between Bill and Michael Balch with Rhys Fulber mainly helping out in the studio. The album showed the early signs of a musical force that could probably develop into something quite awesome. At this point some of the music was very basic but it was obvious that the people responsible for it were very talented. According to a US advert The Initial Command and State Of Mind albums have been reissued on CD through Roadrunner/Third Mind.
Soon after F.L.A. released the mini album Disorder on Third Mind and a cult following was beginning to emerge. The music recorded for Third Mind was being licensed to Wax Trax stateside and sales were up in Britain and Germany. With this success Third Mind repackaged the Corrosion and Disorder albums together on to compact disc under the title of Convergence but although the compilation omitted the tracks "The Wrack Part 3: Wisdom" and "Aggression" it gained three other previously unreleased tracks in the form of "Solitude Of Confinement", "Headcase Fargone" and "Collision".
F.L.A.'s next attack was the Gashed Senses And Crossfire album released in April 1989. The album was a carefully crafted digital transgression of sound and samples. Two singles were ripped from the album in the form of "Digital Tension Dementia" and "No limit". What made the music so listenable was that although there were hard hitting industrial overtones the music was steeped in techno-pop. With the new releases they debuted their music live with extensive tours of Europe and North America. To celebrate the success of the live performances Third Mind released an album of live material from their final European date which was a limited edition of only 4000 copies.
Even though F.L.A. were now quite successful nothing was to prepare the public for the follow up album Caustic Grip. Michael Balch was no longer a member of the band and Rhys had taken over the position full time. The album was a blistering assault on the senses that threatened to destroy your brain cells with its agitated aggression. There was now a power within the music that was intertwined with the duo's imaginative intricate soundscapes and futuristic technology sample outbursts. The singles "Iceolate" and "Provision" proved to be big sellers and Front Line Assembly had planned and committed themselves to their offensive and won. For their new live performances Chris Peterson joined the duo to help out on stage.
In February 1991 the band released a new single "Virus" which was not to be found on any of their albums. The video to the single managed to secure a lot of publicity and TV exposure allowing more people to hear the music and see the images. After this Bill and Rhys took a break from Front Line Assembly and concentrated on a new project - Intermix. Once this was completed and for the last third of 1991 Bill and Leeb were back working on new F.L.A. material. These new recordings spawned the "Mindphaser" single and the Tactical Neural Implant album.
The change in variety that Tactical Neural Implant held gained the band even more popularity and a host of new fans. So much so that the album achieved top ten places in various British indie charts. Having already toured the USA during 1991 F.L.A. were planning to hit our shores early in 1993 but as this magazine goes to print the bad news is that the tour has been cancelled.
Their last release as F.L.A. was The Blade mini album which contained four remixes of the title track "The Blade" (originally from the Tactical Neural Implant album) plus four brand new tracks. However, the story of the duo does not end here. As a duo, Bill is usually seen as the foreman but Rhys, although young, has a large slice of talent himself and the two of them are what makes the perfect team. Together, Bill Leeb and Rhys Fulber have been involved with many other projects:-
Chronologically Delerium was the first escapade together with the first album Faces, Forms, and Illusions in 1988. Delerium's music is somewhat different from Front Line Assembly's. Faces, Forms, and Illusions' sleeve notes state, "This is the first part of a series dedicated to the ideal: freedom of expression, without limits". The music is just that: free flowing, crossing the borders of reality. It is very atmospheric but with a deeper brooding sound that sometimes borders on the edge of gothic.
The albums vary in finesse with early material roughly shaped and later tracks finely honed but everything living up to the quality the duo strive for. The softest album is Stone Tower and this would probably appeal to a lot of people although it is not their best. However, in my opinion, their finest moment is not on any of their individual albums - it is the seven and a half minute track "Sermon" from the Dossiers compilation CD. This compilation is highly recommended especially as you also get the previously unreleased tracks "Inside Out" by F.L.A. and "Falling" by Noise Unit.
Bill and Rhys teamed up with Marc Verhaeghen (of The Klinik fame) to form Noise Unit. The first album in 1989 was Grinding Into Emptiness - an album of minimalistic techno/electro beats. The second album, Response Frequency, was a much more solid offering and divulged an air of more complexity. These two albums were released on Antler Subway in Europe. Also on Antler Subway were two singles "Deceit" and "Agitate".
Noise Unit have recently returned with the compact disc only album Strategies Of Violence on Dossier although there is no credit to Marc Verhaeghen. This fact is soon backed up on the first listen. This album has a much harder edge and vocals are present on most tracks. In fact the album sounds more like Front Line Assembly circa Caustic Grip. If you loved F.L.A.'s Caustic Grip but felt the abrasive hold was gone on Tactical Neural Implant try Noise Unit's Strategies Of Violence - you won't be disappointed.
In 1990 Bill (under his original guise of Wilhelm Schroeder) returned to work with Cevin Key (of Skinny Puppy). One album was produced from this collaboration titled Tenebrae Vision and this was a sporadic affair and indeed a true combination of Skinny Puppy's horror and Front Line Assembly's techno aggression. Cult film samples abound amongst a varied selection of strange and wonderful industrial tracks. However the album is not quite fully coherent as a whole, but different tracks will stand out for individual people.
The compact disc of the album contains one extra track and the first single "Temper" was released at the same time as the album. It was made available in the USA and Europe on 12" and compact disc single. However the second single, "Nothing Stays", was only released in the USA on Wax Trax.
After Bill's excursion on his own to Cyberaktif, Rhys' solo efforts took the form of Will with the help of Chris Peterson and John McRae. Will's music is a dark gothic soundscape full of atmospheres and emotions. It is hauntingly powerful even on the basic levels of the first album Pearl Of Great Price. New textures and more clarity appear with the recent mini album Word Flesh Stone.
Although the music for Pearl Of Great Price was written some time ago the album was only just released in November 1991. The new mini album has just been released prior to Christmas 1992 and a new album's worth of material is due any month now.
This is the duos latest project. The first, self titled instrumental/dance album was released in 1991 along with a vinyl only 12" single of the non album tracks "Dream On" and "Funky Hell". Although these releases were released with "Bill Leeb and Rhys Fulber from Front Line Assembly" stickers on them some F.L.A. fans would have been taken somewhat aback by the music (and indeed some of them were). It's not because the music was rubbish (something which it most certainly isn't) but because it was much more techno-pop/dub mix orientated than anything they had done before but there was also more.
This particular project was apparently something they had been wanting to do for a long time. Intermix's music sounds simple but on the inside it is very complex and careful listening will reveal wondrous moments of studio creation. This is because Bill and Rhys approach all their projects with intensity and passion, and they also have the added bonus of knowing exactly what they are doing when they are creating the music.
Inside the Intermix soundscapes are intricate valleys of openness and exuberance filled with an aural punching beat. Carefully selected samples boost the content and emotion runs rife in some tracks. Intermix is not clinical, uninspiring dance music, it is meticulously crafted, hard edged instrumentals aimed at the dancefloor.
The style continues in its growth with the recent Phaze Two compact disc (hence the name) which has such wondrous moments as "Corollary", "Fall Out" and the amazing nine minute plus "Monument". As a bonus you also get the "Dream On" and "Funky Hell" tracks previously only available on the vinyl only 12" single.
Considering the quantity of material the duo release, either as a team or with other people, some might consider the quality of the music to deteriorate but this is quite wrong. The duo have continued to amaze many hundreds of thousands around the world with their music albeit in different projects. It doesn't matter - their music holds high standards of achievement and the duo can easily hold their heads up high with pride.
The quantity does not matter it is the quality that counts and Bill Leeb and Rhys Fulber deliver quality every time in whatever form, shape or style. The duo force you to the edge and allow you to wobble precariously on the brink and just as you're about to fall Wake up! Stop dreaming! This is reality not kindergarten. Dream on at your own peril
Early Front Line Assembly and Noise Unit material is available on Wax Trax in the USA. Later F.L.A. material, Intermix and Will are available on Roadrunner/Third Mind in the USA. Delerium material is released on the German label Dossier (except the mini album Euphoric which is on Third Mind) and thus these albums may not be easily obtainable outside of Europe.