Aliens Production (AP 18), 2008
I find Aliens Production to be a fascinating label. Based in Slovakia, its releases are often staunchly old-school in philosophy, but with modern influences. More often than not, this hybrid approach results in a unique electronic sound, and one that I consider quite appealing. Not all of AP’s discography is successful on the same level, but when the label’s formula really works, the results are definitely notable.
One such release is Predestination, the first album by the duo Frontier Guards. Composed of Martin Pavlik and Tom Galle, both late of the latent EBM project H.E.E.L., Frontier Guards’ debut is an attempt to marry 80s-era EBM with 21st-century IDM. The album is heavily rhythm-based, but isn’t aimed for the dancefloor; you won’t find many instances of 4/4 beats. Neither is Predestination introspective IDM; it’s clearly sourced from classic science fiction, horror, and cyberpunk. It’s largely instrumental, heavily laden with voice samples from recognizable movies, full of retro-style analog sequencing, and is just dark enough to maintain an edge of uncertainty.
“Visitors” embodies the goal of Pavlik and Galle. It begins with a looped siren from the film version of Silent Hill (if you’ve seen it, you know what it announces) before sliding into a heavy muted percussion sequence that falls just short of achieving 4/4 inertia. All of these then drop away to reveal a floating core of dark ambiance, with chopped samples and drifting keys. The rhythms come out of hiding, one at a time, before heavily distorted vocals make a brief appearance (one of two such incidents; the other being “Reconciliation”). The tempo stays unsure, the ambiance is always a breath away, and the atmosphere remains steady as the variety of rhythms and filtered effects progress. As the track ends, we hear a sampled voice announce “primary function complete” in what I find to be a pleasing tribute to classic EBM acts like Front 242, Skinny Puppy and Front Line Assembly.
Other tracks follow a similar vein, but with enough variety to keep Predestination from getting repetitive. I find the off-kilter drums of “Betrayed by Light” to be particularly satisfying, especially when accompanied by skeletal sequences and yet more vocal snippets lifted from film. The title track features a provocative piano melody as its heart – many AP albums utilize unfiltered piano as another classic component – while the electronics whir, buzz, and thud around it like a swarm of orbiting robot bees. It’s not overly complex – Frontier Guards never overdoes its layering – but flows from one clearly marked section to the next with a combination of homage and experimentation. “Touch of Divinity” increases the atmosphere, veering closely to the territory of label-mates Oxyd via a melodic synth threaded by a flickering network of clicks and cuts, and with the inevitable voice samples making the required appearance. The delicate piano of “Screaming” fits very well with the buried drum programming, old-school analog bass, and lightly noisy loops
Add three remixes – one each by AP stalwarts Oxyd and Anhedonia, and one by the celebrated Subheim – and a visual track exhibiting Galle’s talent with images, and Predestination has a hefty amount of content. It does move sluggishly in parts – “Abandoned Mind” relies too much on the voice samples and doesn’t have the mid-track shifts of the rest of the album, and “Transcendental Experiment” uses too-harsh metallic percussion and loops its primary sequence too often – and it seems to lose steam during its second half in general, but the overall package is an attractive one. I also think that the movie samples are too prevalent and often too recognizable; if I know where a sample is sourced from, it distracts me from the music. Despite this quibbles, Aliens Production has released yet another quality entry in their old/newschool discography, and Predestination is a prime example of the label’s retro-future vision. Frontier Guards may be too old-school for some, and perhaps even schizophrenic to others, but I consider their music to be an enjoyable and quirky ode to underground electronic days of yore with one foot set firmly in the modern age.