If you come to COMBICHRIST from the industrial or electronic music scenes, you probably won’t require any explanation here. If, on the other hand, you’re a curious metalhead, just rest assured that it’s not explicitly compulsory to wear rubber trousers while listening to “On Fire”. It just sounds like it. And that’s no bad thing, because while other more high-profile industrial figureheads seem content to repeat themselves, Andy LaPlegua‘s aggro-tech warriors have amassed an impressively diverse catalogue of albums, not to mention a reputation as an amorphous, ever-changing live act. Crossing over to the metal scene was never going to be a problem, because unlike some of their peers, COMBICHRIST seem perfectly comfortable in metal, and “On Fire” is firmly pitched between the two genres, with heaviness a constant, but the squiggle ‘n’ bleep of caustic electronica never far from the surface.
After years of battering crowds in person, COMBICHRIST‘s music has clearly evolved to become more impactful in that setting: like almost everything here, opening track “Hate Like Me” is a freshly minted anthem, with a crowd-baiting chorus and riffs that demand the furious nodding of heads. Likewise, “Broken United” and “Guns at Last Dawn” exert the momentous power of thrash or melodic death metal, but with feet firmly on the dancefloor and that irresistible Ministry-like sense of chaos permanently hovering in the sonic background. In contrast, the title track’s stop-start ebb and flow has plenty of nu-school EDM DNA in its veins, but it’s restrained pace and gang-chant chorus are hard rock to the core.
The bombastic, shuffling “Understand” is another obvious highlight, as LaPlegua rages hoarsely in the foreground over an insistent glam rock throb that is slickly interrupted by dense washes of distortion. Meanwhile, “Lobotomy” is far smarter and sexier than its name suggests: in fact, it could almost be pop music if it wasn’t so thuggish and lascivious. Again, you can almost smell the rubber trousers.
The album’s only real howler is a rather perfunctory and unnecessary cover of DEAD KENNEDYS‘ “California Über Alles”. It’s all done with obvious reverence and precision, but the song has been covered on numerous occasions before, often with more imaginative results, and doesn’t gain much from being rendered in thudding, industrial shades. That said, changing JELLO BIAFRA‘s original lyric from “your kids will meditate in school” to “your kids will medicate in school” is a neatly poignant touch.
The electro-metal day is saved, however, thanks to a closing brace of absolute rippers. Firstly, “Last Days Under the Sun” sees COMBICHRIST notching up the stuttering synths for a pounding, stadium cyber-punk attack. Lastly, mega-ballad “The Other” — one of those harrowing, overwrought gloom-fests aimed squarely at the gothic faithful — provides “One Fire” with an unexpectedly affecting and nuanced farewell.
Undisputed masters of this stuff, COMBICHRIST won’t alienate the faithful with “On Fire” but their uncanny ability to unite tribes and, most impressively, get metalheads dancing continues to be a cause for celebration (as society disintegrates around us, obviously).