Front Line Assembly (FLA) began when Bill Leeb, decided to part company with Canadian Industrial pioneers Skinny Puppy under alleged controversial circumstances and set out of his own musical quest. Whilst Bill trading under the pseudonym Wilhelm Schroeder had real little influence in Skinny Puppy, it was a place where he learnt his trade and saw the germination of some of the ideas that would form the backbone of FLA.
Following two self released demo tapes ‘Total Terror’ and ‘Nerve War’, (which are like gold dust to the hardcore FLA fan although Total Terror was re-released as part of the two CD ‘Total Terror 1 and 2 in 1993) FLA debuted in 1987 with their first album ’The Initial Command’. On this album Michael Balch joined Bill with help from a young Rhys (pronounced Reece) Fulber on several tracks. ‘Initial Command’ set the sound for early FLA a combination of heavy sequenced bass lines, earth shaking beats and an overdose of synthesizers and samples. Elements that have remained at the core of the FLA sound throughout their history, although the application and (mis) use of these ingredients has developed and metamorphosed over time. The FLA sound fitted in snugly with the burgeoning European EBM scene as well as the growth of the American Industrial scene, with it’s combination of heavy beats, complex layered melodies and harsh distorted vocals.
‘The Initial Command’ was quickly followed by the release of FLA’s second album ‘State of Mind’ (1988) and the two mini albums Corrosion (1988) and Disorder (1988) . The two mini albums were later compiled on the album ‘Convergence’ (1988) and later repackaged with additional tracks as Corroded Disorder (1995). These releases saw FLA produce music that was not only heavy on rhythmic dominance but also rich in dark ambient textures. At this time FLA stood alone in the field of Industrial music, neither really heading towards the dance floors like their European counterparts or disappearing into the realms of experimentation that many bands were falling into.
However things were about to change as FLA decided to move on to a more dance floor friendlier arena with the release of their next album ‘Gashed Senses and Crossfire’ (1989). ‘Gashed senses’ saw FLA dropping the dark atmospherics of their earlier releases and create and album based on a more beat and bass driven sounds. Tracks like ’No Limit’ and ’Digital Tension Dementia’ forced you to move your feet while at the same time destroying your mind. FLA had begun the move from being outsiders of the Industrial scene straight into its pulsating mechanical heart.
1989 also saw the first of many FLA side project releases in the shape of the first Delerium albums ‘Faces, Forms and Illusions’ and ‘Morpheus’ which continued the dark ambience of early FLA but adding a more tribal and classical influence to the band’s sound. Also released at the same time was Bill’s collaboration with Klinik member Marc Verhaeghen under the name Noise Unit, who released the album ‘Grinding into Emptiness’ and the single ‘Deceit’. This year also saw the release of the rare ‘Live’ album, the departure of Michael Balch, and the full time employment of Rhys Fulber.
If ‘Gashed Senses’ had seen a step forward for FLA then its follow up ‘Caustic Grip’ (1990) was FLA running into the cybernetic future. ‘Caustic Grip’ saw FLA adding a highly complex mesh of sounds to beats that threaten to tear the world apart. The singles ‘Provision’ and ‘Iceolate’ were FLA trump cards receiving singles of the week in Melody Maker and Sounds and trampling over all FLA’s Industrial dance rivals. Electronic music had never sounded so heavy and complex before and yet still maintaining it’s structure. ‘Caustic Grip’ was my introduction to Industrial music and it still holds a special place in my heart. With ‘Caustic Grip’ FLA had shown me that the future was electronic and dance music could be as heavy as any rock band out there.
As if the release of ‘Caustic Grip’ wasnt enough for Bill and Rhys they also released albums as Cyberaktif (Bill’s collaboration with Skinny Puppy members Cevin Key and Dwayne Goettel) ‘Tenebrae Vision’ (1990), Will (Rhy’s Medieval Hard beat side project with future FLA member Chris Peterson and vocalist John McRae) ’Pearl Of Great Price’ and ‘Word Flesh Stone’ (1991), Intermix (FLA’s techno/house side project) Intermix (1991) as well as four further Delerium releases ‘Syrophenikan’ and ‘Stone Tower’ (1990) ‘Spiritual Archives’ and ‘Euphoric’ (1991) and another Noise Unit ‘Response Frequency, (1990).
The next release FLA release was 1992’s ‘Tactical Neural Implant’ (TNI), which again saw FLA pushing their sound forward. ‘TNI’ saw Bill and Rhys adding elements of the techno sound that they had experimented with on the ‘Intermix’ album. Gone were the heavy beats of ‘Caustic Grip’ replaced with hip-hop and techno influenced rhythms. ‘TNI’ is an album of sublime vision that conjures up images of the cyberpunk dystopia of the writings of William Gibson and the film Bladerunner. Amongst FLA fans ‘TNI’ is regarded by many as FLA’s finest moments and acts as a superb introduction for the novice to the music of Bill Leeb.
Again Bill and Rhys were busy with other projects including remixing Fear Factory on the ‘Fear is the Mindkiller EP’ (1992). This was the first time Rhys was to with Fear Factory, later becoming their unofficial fifth member and producing their following albums. They also released another album as Intermix ‘Phaze 2 (1993).
The period of 1993/94 saw another transitional period for FLA. One album was shelved (later to be released under the Noise Unit tag ‘Decoder’ (1994) as being out of synch with the band wanted to create as FLA, and a new album was recorded. The new album ‘Millennium’ was released in 1994 and once more the FLA sound had mutated. This time and a big shock to many FLA fans, the band had added heavy guitars to the mix. Many fans saw this time as FLA selling out and trying to cash in on the ascendancy of Industrial bands like Ministry and Nine Inch Nails. Maybe it was the influence of new record label Roadrunner forcing FLA’s hands, but ‘Millennium’ was still an awesome album. Guitar riffs from Slayer and Pantera along with live guitars fro Devin Townsend (Strapping Young Lad, etc.) where added to FLA’s pummelling technoid beats and sweeping strings to great a monster of an album. It may have pissed off a lot of purists but at least FLA weren’t standing stationary.
1994 also saw the development of Delerium from being a FLA side project into an entity in it’s own rights. The opening chapter of the book according to Delerium was closed by the release of ’Spheres’ ands Spheres 2’ both albums of cold spatial ambience. Then Delerium was genetically re-engineered with the release of the ’Flowers become Screens’ single and the album ’Semantic Spaces’. The dark ambience of early Delerium was replaced with a rich textural sound that nodded in the direction of Enigma and Deep Forest but without the cheesy histrionics.
Also released around this time were the Delerium junior of the last Intermix album ’Future Primitives’ (1994) and the Synaesthesia album ‘Embody’ (1994). Both albums seem to consist of material that hadn’t made it onto the Delerium album. The Synaesthesia album was even credited to R. Deckard (Harrison Ford’s character in Bladerunner) in an attempt to pass it off as a non-FLA related release and to escape from record contract obligations.
1995 bought the next FLA album in the shape of ‘Hard Wired’, which saw FLA combining the guitar elements of ‘Millennium’ with the cyberpunk sound of ‘ Tactical Neural Implant’. The release of ‘Hard Wired’ was met with a world tour by the band which was captured on the ’Live Wired’ CD and Video box set (1996). The live site is an exhilarating ride through the history of FLA taking it all periods of their musical history. ‘Hard Wired’ was also met by the release of a ‘Remix Wars’ album (1997) where FLA and German Industrialists Die Krupps remixed each other’s tracks.
The period following the release of ‘Hard Wired’ was also another busy period. Rhys announced he was to leave and concentrate on production and later his own project Conjure One. Whilst Bill concentrated on more side projects including new projects Equinox ‘Holon’ (1998) and Pro>Tech ‘Orbiting Cathedrals’ (1997) which saw Bill experimenting with electronica and break beats. Another Noise Unit album ‘Drill (1997) two more Synaesthesia albums ‘Desideratum’ (1995) and ‘Ephemeral‘ (1997) and the big one and his last collaboration of the era with Rhys Delerium’s ‘Karma’ (1997).
It was ‘Karma’ that would see the turning point in Bill and Rhys’ careers. The album featured a collaboration with singer Sarah McLachlan entitled ‘Silence’. Silence’ would later be remixed by a host of name DJ’s and then flew into the Top Ten of charts around the world under the guise of a DJ Tiesto remix. FLA or rather Delerium had come from cult obscurity to have one of the biggest dance hits of 2000. Strange how the power of a bad trance remixes can alter a band’s destiny.
But before the chart success of ‘Silence’, Bill alongside new partner Chris ‘Corndog’ Peterson released three further FLA albums. First off was the stunning ‘FLAvour of the Weak’ (1997) , which saw FLA combining the more break beat and techno influences of their Pro-Tech and Equinox side projects to their sound. Where as previous album ‘Hard Wired’ had seen FLA standing still ‘FLAvour’ saw FLA creating a new year zero for Industrial music. Sweeping away all the old clichés and creating a new environment where Industrial music could once more challenge the music that was being created by the dominance of trance culture.
‘FLAvour’ was quickly followed by a remix companion in the shape of ‘Re- Wind’ that featuring one disc of remixes by the band themselves and a disc of remixes by the likes of Front 242, Fini Tribe, Tim Schultz and Eat Static.
A year later and FLA released the album ‘Implode’ (1999) which while not as groundbreaking as ‘FLAvour’ saw FLA consolidated their position as one of the leading forces in the world of Industrial music. ‘Implode is one of those albums that demands repeat listening to really appreciate the sonic depths. It also proves that the gathering success of the more commercial Delerium sound didn’t mean that Bill would sell out with FLA.
Into the new millennium a switch in the priorities as Delerium becomes the main project for El Leebo and FLA are relegated to being the second project. This new dawn is born with the arrival of the new more polished and pop oriented Delerium album ‘Poem’ (2000) where a body of guest artists including Leigh Nash, Matthew Sweet and the Medieval Babes joined Bill on a journey into more mainstream pastures.
The rumour wheel had revealed that ‘Epitaph’ (2001) would be FLA’s last album, as Delerium has become Bill’s cash cow. Proceeded by the ominously titled ‘Everything Must Perish’ single (spookily released on 9/11), Epitaph is a great repost to all those who believed that El Leebo had lost the plot with Delerium. Working for the last time with Chris Peterson, ‘Epitaph’ is a storming mix of ‘FLAvour of The Week’ style break beats with a hint of Deleriumesqe melodies.
With the release rate of Leeb related work slowing down, the next move by the FLA camp was the release of Rhys Fulber’s first solo album as Conjure One. ‘Conjure One’ (2002) is very much in the style of Delerium but wins the battle with ‘Poem’ as Rhys shows a stronger writing style and more memorable songs.
Bill and Rhys then re-grouped for the first time since ‘Karma’ to work on new Delerium and FLA material. The first fruit of their labour is the Delerium album ‘Chimera’ (2003).
‘Chimera’ is even more pop influenced that it’s predecessor ‘Poem’. A few months after its release Delerium venture out on their first ever tour.
Once again re-united as FLA, Bill And Rhys released a killer single ‘Maniacal’ (2003) as a precursor to the new album ‘Civilization’ (2004) and the sighs of relief amongst FLA fans were audible across the globe. ‘Maniacal’ is good old-fashioned FLA bought up to date. Whilst B-side ‘Anti’ shows that Messers Leeb and Fulber can still produce stark and dark Industrial.
The follow-up single Vanished featured harder dancier versions of that track as well as b-sides whose heavy darkness might have seemed out of place on the relatively soft album. Stürm, one of the heaviest tracks from this session, was featured on the soundtrack to the horror film SAW.
As is usual with FLA albums, there were rumors that Civilization would be the final album. This rumor was made all the more believable by the lack of a tour. This was proven to be false when FLA returned with a vengeance and a full new line-up. Artificial Soldier (2006) was perceived to be a return to form for the influential act whereby the softer, more subtle side of Civilization was replaced by the thickly layered rhythms more often attributed to FLA.
The crew for the new release included Leeb with both of his long-time collaborators Peterson and Fulber as well as new member Jeremy Inkel, all co-songwriters on the album adding thier own influences to the thick complex mixture of the record. This was also the first FLA album to feature guest lead vocalists since Millenium’s Victim of a Criminal by including one track each from Eskil Simonsson (Covenant) and Jean-Luc DeMeyer (Front 242). See the album page for full credits. Long-time live drummer Adrian White and Left Spine Down’s guitarist, Jared Slingerland, joined on the North American tour which, suprisingly, began before the actual release of the album. Fulber’s project Conjure One supported for the last two North American dates.
This release was followed by a very successful European tour that fueled FLA with new energy and hope for the future of their art. For the first time in a long time Leeb was optimistic about the future of his project and made this clear by releasing the full remix album Fallout (2007) featuring remixes by established and newer industrial and EBM artists as well as new tracks co-written with the newest band members and immediately setting out on yet another North American and European tour. It was on this tour that Wilhelm Anton Leeb had the opportunity to meet his father, a native Austrian.
Adrian White has since left the band but the future of the band looks brighter than ever thanks to the overwhelming response of long-time fans as well as yet another generation of younger fans flocking to FLA because of the flurry of new releases and tours. Bill Leeb and Jeremy Inkel have already begun working on the new Delerium record and now a new Front Line Assembly record is no longer a pipe dream but rather a certainty. It is now a composite of old and new band members, old and new styles. FLA is dead. Long live FLA.
History written by Ian Proudfoot aka Sidney James
Updates (starting with Vanished) by Nicholas Ferro aka Nicholas0