CD, Eat Your Heart Out, 2008
Alec Empire, the iconic producer behind Digital Hardcore Recordings, has in certain respects returned to his digital roots. That said, the latest album from an artist so prolific as to render that term a gross understatement also indicates a departure from convention, released as it is on Empire’s new label, Eat Your Heart Out, to which the long-celebrated DHR has taken a backseat. Although this reviewer admits to not having heard anything from Empire since the gleeful mayhem of experimental noise and breakcore that is “Miss Black America” (1999), released shortly before Empire’s most renowned project, Atari Teenage Riot, hit breaking point and went into indefinite cold storage, “The Golden Foretaste of Heaven” (henceforth, TGFH) is musically unsurprising, yet technically pleasing. With an emphasis on electronic texture central to its digression from rock structures, a notable absence of anything breakcore, and lyrics not incongruous to its musical stance, the electro-rhythmic, moody and mostly danceable new face of Empire’s solo work arrives more as curiosity than potential disappointment.
Unlike others of Empire’s post-ATR solo endeavors, TGFH retreats from the rock-oriented formula of live instrumentation and instead incorporates a wholly electronic modus operandi. Accompanying this is the requisite angst familiar to Empire’s legacy, albeit minus any overt political agenda. While his lyricism still embodies the digital punk-poetic objections of a man disillusioned with pretty much everything, topicality in the case of TGFH focuses on love and failure, at once and interchangeably. Strong accents of nihilism also aren’t uncommon, as in “If You Live or Die” when Empire intones, ‘It’s simple to say goodbye / to a face that doesn’t care / if you live or die, or on “Death Trap in 3D” when he croons, It feels so bad / so much worse than pain / your love, like a golden foretaste of heaven.’ [Interpolation: I’m not sure what foretaste is supposed to mean in this context, but the usually uncomfortable connotations derived from its antithesis, aftertaste, seem too relevant to ignore. The fact that it’s described as golden, along with associations with heaven, is just plain creepy.] The hit-or-miss ingenuous vocals scattered through TGFH don’t actually diminish the album as a whole, however those that many feel they might have heard somewhere before (e.g., ‘Our love can be a downward spiral’, from “On Fire”) remain sketchy at best.
Beginning with catchy opener “New Man,” the toe-tapping, motorik-fueled tracks on TGFH owe their existence to a multitude of influences. Post-punk, shoegaze, industrial, krautrock, and pure electro display facets in Empire’s latest work, with melancholic soul-churners like “1000 Eyes” (When you’ve tried a thousand times / a thousand eyes look down on you) and “No/Why/New York” (Leaving her felt like I was walking away from a fire / a fire that killed the both of us) even evincing a strange reminiscence in the direction of The Velvet Underground. Others of the more upbeat tracks recall the likes of Death in Vegas. Despite its reliance on electronic production, an amorphous sonic glazing provided by heavily processed guitar-sounds remains a key element of TGFH. Strung together with digital textures, synthesizer fanfares and interjections of dissonant noise, these distorted guitars congeal behind drum machine rhythms and snare attacks that push Empire’s vocalizations forward with an intensity ready-made for live performance. From the quirky bleeps of “Robot L.O.V.E.” and eyebrow-raising, staccato-saturated “Down Satan Down” to the elastic and menacing beats of “Bug On My Windshield,” Empire has certainly succeeded in recasting his sound, if not exactly his style.
— Dutton Hauhart