When Bill Leeb left SKINNY PUPPY to form FRONT LINE ASSEMBLY, back in 1986, it seemed that he was jumping the ship everyone wanted to be on.

The Vancouver-based band were rising with a post-punk tide that combined synthesizers, hard rhythms and splatter movie images.

It was a counterpoint to the commercial sounds that filled the airwaves of the period.

Their popularity had helped Nettwerk Records get a distribution deal with a major label in the US, while the band were signed to a powerful independent in Europe. It wasn’t enough for Leeb. He wanted to sing. He wanted to shape songs that were powerful electro-industrial statements, but he also wanted the freedom to create ambient trance.

Starting with a cassette recorder in his bedroom, Leeb created FRONT LINE ASSEMBLY to do the former. He also found success with the latter as DELIRIUM. In between, he’s launched or taken part in dozens of projects. Most recently, he collaborated with John Fryer’s BLACK NEEDLE NOISE project.

Promiscuous as he is, artistically, FLA remains Leeb’s musical spine. He formed the band under the spell of early PORTION CONTROL, SPK and LIAISONS DANGEREUSES, and their industrial influences continue to resonate.

Locked in a hall in London, with long-time collaborator Rhys Fulber on keyboards, the FLA atmosphere comes less from the drifting clouds of stage smoke than the rhythms of the city outside.

The blips of computers and the pumping of valves are core elements of the FLA sound. The flow of data and people needs machines, and the pace of machines causes anxiety. Heavy beats are a sonic tonic for this state, and FLA are an efficient delivery mechanism.

Leeb strides the stage with a shock of blond hair rising from his head that seems to be made of high tensile wire. The opening songs, ‘The Chair’ and ‘Resist’, first appeared on FLA’s 1990 album, ‘Caustic Grip’, and the intervening three decades have done nothing to soften their impact. “Resist the command!” instructs Leeb, and a heaving crowd submits to the rhythm without irony.

‘Killing Ground’ follows, taken from 2013’s critically acclaimed album, ‘Echogenetic’. Fulber didn’t appear on that album, but he did remix the track, and he seems at home with the material. From behind his bank of keyboards, he fixes a serious face for the set, but keeping the needle in the groove at this pace is no smiling matter.

The set includes more songs from ‘Echogenetic’, including ‘Exhale’ and ‘Deadened’, but the balance is weighted towards FLA’s 1990s output. It is an electronic bookend to FLA’s catalogue, leaving out the guitars of their millennial recordings.

Live drumming intensifies the rhythms, rather than presenting Eigner-like intrusions, and the endorphin levels match the sound man’s VU meter.

The show nearly ends with an excellent encore of ‘Mindphaser’, but FLA won’t be released by the audience. The show can’t finish until the blond giant and his bearded keyboardist have returned to ‘Caustic Grip’ for a blistering turn of ‘Iceolate’, as fierce and innovative as it sounded on its initial release.

Special thanks to Gary Levermore at Red Sand PR

2017 North American Tour includes:

Los Angeles The Regent (10th November), Seattle El Corazon (11th November), San Francisco Mezzanine (12th November), Dallas Gas Monkey (14th November), Austin Elysium (15th November), Denver Summit Music Hall (16th November), Chicago Metro (17th November), New York Gramercy Theatre (18th November), Toronto Danforth Music Hall (19th November)






Text and Photos by Simon Helm
28th August 2017