After a couple years of increasingly commercially successful electro-industrial music, Front Line Assembly goes sort of metallic on Millennium. It didn’t get them onto Encylopedia Metallum, but the addition of a guitar attack and a more vigorous rhythmic section did a good deal to harden up the band’s already menacing sound. This is really the perfect album for the 1990s – darker and edgier than before, but still pretty much in line with the evolving trends of the decade’s rock/metal scene. On the other hand, this album is over 20 years old, and trends have changed. Does this album still hold up. The problem with asking me such a question is that like the vast majority of the music reviews here on Invisible Blog, this is an album I listened to fairly recently, so my opinions on it are shaded by the fact I never got to live the zeitgeist (If I had, I would’ve been an exceedingly precocious toddler).
Anyways, I chose to listen to Millennium mostly for its industrial metal sound. Compared to something like Ministry’s Psalm 69, the guitars are relatively subtle, and the emphasis is on how they mix in with the established electronic side of the band. Songs here generally fit into a standard pop mold, albeit with elongated, sample-driven bridges that admittedly vary in how much they actually contribute to the atmosphere. “Industrial”, as a genre, sometimes comes off as a genre more oriented towards film enthusiasts, and to be honest it sometimes tries my patience when Front Line Assembly bases part or all of a song off a couple quotes from some film I probably will never watch.
When the band relies more on their synthesizers and other instrumentation (As I was researching for this review, I learned that Devin Townsend provided guitar work for a few tracks), I find myself far more interested. Millennium sticks to a fairly narrow aesthetic, but the songwriting crew is creative enough to push it in a few unexpected directions, most notably the rap-rock crossover track “Victim of A Criminal”. Bill Leeb’s vocals are also a highlight – his heavily processed tones are an important mixture in the band’s multilayered synthesizer attack, and they effectively set the mood by texture alone, even when the lyrics are a bit hamfisted.
Overall, Millennium sounds strong and has enough of an accessible yet versatile songwriting style to succeed, but I’d probably try to edit out some of the filler if I had access to the master tracks. I don’t know why I feel this way about the album when some of the other filler-laden albums I’ve listened to don’t elicit such a strong response, but maybe it has to do with the whole mechanical aesthetic?
Highlights: “Millennium”, “Search and Destroy”, “Victim of a Criminal”, “Plasma Springs”
This is a King Crimson album. Sort of. Maybe. With the accession of Jakko Jakszyk into King Crimson in 2013, all the named members in the band name are now proper members or former members, for better or worse. It even shares much of its musical ancestry and backing with what King Crimson became (compare to their debut; 40 years can be… disruptive). And yet, this ProjeKct is one primarily of semi-ambient soundscape pop music – not unheard of in short bursts on the band’s mainline albums, but given that King Crimson once contributed much to the musical language of the heavy metal that serves as the bread and butter of Invisible Blog, it still takes some getting used to.
The “genesis” of this album probably lies in Robert Fripp’s experiments with recorded tape loops and similar from the 1970s onwards – aka “Frippertronics”. While A Scarcity of Miracles makes limited use of them at best, Fripp’s experience with such give this project a deep reservoir of experience to draw upon.On the other hand, the actual songwriting is driven more by conventional instrumentation, with the ambient guitarscapes used for texture. That much is probably Mel Collins’ contribution; he helped woodwind up King Crimson in its early days, and I’d go as far as to say that his saxophone parts are one of the most important parts of A Scarcity of Miracles. Still, the overall aesthetic owes more to KC’s latest works, so you shouldn’t expect any lizard or island worship here.
I expect that much of your opinion on this album is going to boil down to your opinion on post-1995 King Crimson. Not everyone who reads this blog has the time to listen to their studio albums and miscellany from that era, but it’s something of a mixing pot; an interesting juxtaposition of both the improvisatory frenzy of their ’70s and the more overtly structured 1980s lineup of the band. While the dynamic levels here are usually pretty sedate, there are some intense moments scattered throughout, and they’re arguably strengthened by their rarity. It still makes more sense to judge this album based on its predominantly ambient passages, though, and this is why A Scarcity of Miracles strikes me as a niche product. It requires deeper listening attention to properly appreciate than its accessible facade of vocals and saxophone might lead you to believe. Even then, it’s not particularly dense, although continued listening has lead me to respect this album for its skillful interplay of instrumentation and ability to turn the famed King Crimson free improvisation in a more consonant and coherent direction than usual.
It’s still not an enormously frequent listen for me, though, but if my music tastes were significantly different…
Highlights: “The Price We Pay”, “This House”, “The Other Man”