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I cut off the fat for a lean, mean, noise machine. - 85%

electrikills, November 1st, 2010

I am in two minds about this album. Much of it really floats my boat- for a start, the riffs are great. Aggressive and powerful, syncopated yet simple, grooving, and a kick in the nuts at the same time. The guitar sound is tight but full, quite a raging sound really, with a slight touch of the industrial ‘white noise’ approach, but only subtly so, remaining raw and upfront, really driving the tracks along. There are also some sections of cut-and-pasted feedback, effects heavy noise, and general guitar scuzz, betraying the records sequencer driven construction, but working really well to create a sense of noisy chaos in just the right places. The bass is not spectacularly ‘bassy’ but makes up for it with a great snarling distortion which fits into the mix well, and adds to the aggressive sound. The vocal approach is perhaps unusual, a semi-sung, semi-shouted delivery (not uncommon!) but the singer seems to get the ‘grit’ in his voice from somewhere else in his throat to the more typical techniques. I’m no singer, so can’t really expand on that further, but suffice to say that whatever the origin of the vocal tones, they are distinctive, angry, and suit the music well. Despite the sparsity of vocal melody as such, there are also a lot of vocal hooks- yelled, and yet almost anthemic in their sing-along-ability. They almost make destruction, depression, and misanthropy sound, well... fun!

The above are pretty much album-wide absolutes. The riffs are varied enough not to repeat themselves, and the guitars, bass, and vocals are sterling throughout. Even the fairly heavy use of samples works well here, with lots of sweeping electronic sounds, clanging percussion, and gritty spoken word samples. None of it comes across as too clean, and generally fits the atmosphere of things with a nasty, demons-in-the-circuitry vibe. The drums are where my enthusiasm starts to wane a little. What I would consider the primary elements of the drum patterns are very good, the sounds are punchy and mean, with a Vinnie Paul-ish (Pantera) approach to power and simplicity, getting the syncopation of the riffs dealt with without being over complicated, and really blending well with the guitars and bass. At points, the low end frequencies of the three really pump it out together, making palm-muted sections of riff really jump out of the mix in a good way. Satisfying metal chunkiness! However, and this is a bugbear of mine in most industrial metal, there can be extra layers of rhythm, primarily extra snare hits and busy hi-hats, which tend to cloud over the punchiness of the drumkit and create a skittering percussion haze which actually detracts from the momentum of the track rather than enhancing it. This is also the area in which the tracks start to evoke images less of steel toe-capped DM boots on a filthy cemented gig-room floor, and more of white trainers in the foot well of a souped up Ford escort (if you catch my drift!) In case that cultural reference doesn’t travel well outside the UK, it sounds a bit too Drum’n’Bass for my liking!

I won’t do a track-by-track here, as I said before the songs throughout are consistent in style and sound, but are different enough not to be repetitive or boring. That and the fact I’m writing this from work and can’t listen while I type! It is worth mentioning the non-song tracks on the album though. The first to creep from the speakers is the intro track (Introductory Disclaimer), with a warm, pulsating synth sound, not unlike something from a 50’s Sci-fi B movie. Over this a voice calmly encourages you to sit back, relax and accept the barrage of subliminal messaging you are about to be subjected to. Then a bit of manipulated synth strings appear with something about ‘Pitchshifter’ mumbled in reverse. I have yet to listen to it backwards to find out exactly what it says, but although tongue in cheek, it still manages to be slightly unsettling, and a nice tie-in to the paranoid tone of the subject matter to follow. There is also an intermission later on (Harmless Interlude) which, if I remember rightly, is a reprise of this section, brief and well placed in the flow of the album. Those are the welcome ones… The real blot on the landscape in this record is a track called Hanger 84. Practically devoid of any of the positives of my first paragraph it is to all intents and purposes a Drum’n’Bass track. It is about alien contact, secret experiments and government intimidation, but style wise is the epitome of everything negative I have said so far. I find it boring, unpleasant, and worst of all it stalls the flow of the track listing, coming in as the longest track by 1 minute 17 secs, and messing up the whole experience. I have tried to listen to it and enjoy it, but it gets skipped relentlessly. Perhaps in another context it could make more sense, but as a part of this record it is just not what I put the thing on for in the first place and is not only dull, but plain annoying. I will as good as always sit through an album in full, as it is just my preferred way to appreciate a record, but once it made it to my MP3 player that track was out in an instant, and good riddance. Also, rather sportingly, the band decided to provide samples from the record (or which were used to make the record) in two tracks at the end. Each sample pops up twice, and between everything is a ‘bzzzt!’ sound which presumably looks really obvious in a waveform editor for easy cutting. While it is very thoughtful towards those who might want to use the sounds in their own music, it makes for a horrible listening experience and results in a frantic dive across the room to the CD player to stop it after the last track before this comes on. Surely a well advertised CD Rom section would have been better than making this data part of the track listing, and again, the version on my MP3 player now plays to the last song then stops. The digital age has its perks.

So on the face of it, the album is a great metal record in many ways. It has power, energy, aggression, and a dirty feel overall. The riffs are fantastic, the songs are great, and there are hooks throughout without ever veering close to ‘pop-music’. The lyrics are paranoid, misanthropic, political, and angry. For the main part is only tempered in places by the drums, BUT- which when judging the album as a whole is a biggie- I had to make my own edits to the track listing to get this record to work as I liked- 11 minutes and 1 second are missing from a record lasting less than 40 minutes. That cannot be a good thing. It remains to be said though, that this is an album I have come back to time and time again, and keep as one I know will do the trick when I need it, even if I have to tap the skip button and scramble for the stop button at the end. Now I have one of those new-fangled MP3ummijigs the version I listen to is a short, sharp burst of an invigoratingly aggressive and dirty industrial racket, which will no doubt remain close to hand in my collection for regular listenings.

A remarkably good piece of experimentation. - 83%

ForNaught, May 21st, 2009

Infotainment? is the first full-length release by British industrial band Pitchshifter after leaving their industrial metal sound behind. Nowadays known as an industrial nu-metal outfit, they were originally a Godflesh-inspired group, who played a very cold, dark, and sludgy style of metal, sample-laden but chilling. This release essentially bridges the two eras, but it is not the awkward hybrid or safe halfway house that might be expected, but a rather more experimental release.

The album opens with a kind of hypnosis session, accompanied by a left-right channel- bouncing sound, in the absence of a visible pendulum. This quickly fades away into a strangely-placed orchestral swell, and then segues into the first proper song, Underachiever. This track very much typifies the sonic profile of the bulk of the album, and it will become very obvious very quickly that the gloomy, almost robotic metal anthems of previous works are a thing of the past. The sound is big, utilising a very loud and heavy guitar tone, and some interesting drum work, which is now based on a mix of live drums and samples rather than the relentless, metronomic drum machine of older releases. The bass is chunky, down-tuned, and often effect-laden; the vocals are either roared in a somewhat harsher analogue of the older works’ death grunt or sung cleanly but again generally effect-saturated. The production is far cleaner than the dank, cavernous factory sound of earlier works. In short, this sounds an awful lot like nu-metal.

However, it doesn’t have the predictable, almost “safe” sound that would later become attached to the band. The radio-friendly tunes of Deviant or PSI are notably absent. Instead, the majority of the songs are very, very aggressive—not nearly as threatening as, say, most death metal, but this is by far the most abrasive record of the band’s whole career, including the metal days. As a result, the release is actually quite cathartic to listen to. It’s a very pure kind of aggression, which rages against consumerism, collectivism, and commercialism. In terms of lyrical quality it lies somewhere above the juvenilia of later releases; it’s reasonably similar to their earlier works, but far less lyrically minimal—the Godflesh influence seems to have mostly worn off in most aspects of the music at this stage.

Although the music is indeed rooted in nu-metal, with a good deal of experimentation mixed in and an industrial edge to it, it’s actually pretty damn interesting to listen to. This is for a number of reasons. Firstly, the percussion is really varied. As noted, it combines samples/programming with live drums, and this has allowed the band a great degree of freedom. It seems to have been influenced by certain styles of hardcore electronica such as break beat more than anything; it by no means features the steady driving pulse/beat which pervades dance music, but does embrace the lightning-fast, rhythmically-strange, almost neurotic-sounding snare work of more complex and organised-chaotic electronic styles. This is unusual when juxtaposed with the heavy guitar work, which isn’t metal in its riffing for the most part, but still hints at it from time to time. All kinds of additional drum sounds, mostly various pieces of unusual-sounding percussion, have been mixed into the drum lines also.

The vocal performance is also very varied and entertaining. It is different to both the later albums and the metal material. The most often-used style is a kind of half-sung half-roar which is fairly reminiscent of the performance on Desensitized. However, it has been spiced up with some cleaner vocals, closer to later performances but not all the way there yet, some spoken material (usually just a word or two here and there, not rapping!) as well as frequently using various effects on the vocal, including sample manipulation. Reading back on my description I realise that this sounds extremely suspect; however, it works remarkably well in context. The vocal is also fleshed out throughout by liberal use of samples—this is Pitchshifter’s most sample-heavy album. Interspersing the vocal parts in all the different styles with samples creates a remarkably intricate and varied sound.

As noted above, this is also a fairly experimental release. It’s clear that Pitchshifter were not entirely comfortable with their new direction at this stage, and as such were playing around with unusual elements to see what worked best for them. Consequently, this album is far more interesting and less straight-forward than their later, more solidly nu-metal releases would be. Aside from the “hypnosis sessions” of the intro and interlude, which don’t really mean much, this experimental edge is portrayed in a number of ways throughout the release. There’s some overlap with my commentary on what exactly makes the album interesting, here. The very varied and exciting percussion parts use many strange and unusual sounds, to create some quite odd and intriguing sound textures. The same might be said of the vocal performance and samples. Additionally, some of the non-vocal samples are used to insert quite strange noises into the music at intervals—even the most innocuous tracts and riffs are augmented and kept from becoming pedestrian. Most of the songs, although short, are also quite intricately-structured—a far cry from the verse-chorus structures of later releases. One other notable feature is Hangar 84, a track not like anything else in Pitchshifter’s catalogue—it’s an instrumental drum and bass track, filled with samples relating to the Roswell incident. Again, although this sounds awful, it actually works extremely well, due to the very intricate nature of the drum programming and the impeccable use of samples.

Overall this is a really unusual and interesting release. It marks the beginning of Pitchshifter’s downward slide into mediocrity, with each full-length being worse than the previous (although the next two do have their moments, at least). It’s also their last album without filler. This has resulted in a fairly short playing time—there’s actually only about 30 minutes of actual music, omitting the intro and the free samples at the end, which really does leave one wanting more. Understandably, it’s going to put a lot of listeners off due to the nu-metal influence, both due to the attached stigma and the fact that many people just can’t tolerate the style in any shape or form. However, for those who will give it a try and find that they are not put off by these elements, it will be prove to be far greater than the sum of its parts, and a very rewarding listen.