A couple of years ago we were discussing the very evident trend of the time – that a new paradigm in industrial music seemed to be beginning. After some years of dominance of 4/4 rhythms, the same synth presets and a tiresome tirade of macho-bullshit lyrics and posturing, the tide suddenly shifted towards a disparate batch of bands taking influences from “classic” industrial and finding ways of fitting them together with other styles.
Two more years on, and the shift seems nearly complete, and it’s paying dividends. 3 TEETH have crossed over into the metal scene and have been on tour with no less a name than TOOL, festivals like Cold Waves and Terminus in North America are putting on legions of forward-thinking bands alongside legends of the scene (all of whom seem newly invigorated), techno clubs, DJs and artists seem to be playing as much EBM as they are creating work inspired by it, and Youth Code are one of a few industrial artists now getting mainstream music press, and are also about to go on tour in the US with critical darlings Baroness.
What amazes me about what Youth Code do is that no-one seems to have tried approaching industrial from their angle before. Try as I might, I can’t think of a single band who have taken hardcore (punk) stylings and methods to constructing industrial music before, and that maybe is why their sound is so distinctive – and so divisive.
Their raw-as-nails self-production for their debut album, as I discussed in my review at the time, was a turn-off for a few, but those that complained about it really missed the point – and anyway, as I found out later, it is in the live arena that the band really crackle – they are one hell of a formidable live act.
In the two years or so since the debut, Youth Code have evolved, and fast. Their interim EP A Place To Stand saw pulverising industrial fury (Consuming Guilt, To Burn Your World) stand aside political statements that actually resonated and made complete sense (A Litany), while the 7″ before Christmas (Anagnorisis) revealed the first taste of their work with industrial “super-producer” Rhys Fulber.
This new album takes it further, with Rhys Fulber on production duties for the whole thing, but don’t think that he’s just turned them into an FLA/Fear Factory clone, far from it. While his hand is obvious in some elements, elsewhere all he needed to provide was a guiding hand that allowed the songs to snarl and shine all on their own.
One such track is Transitions. This is industrial, kids, but not as you might know it. Structured like a hardcore track, it rips through like a shockwave for the first half, before descending into a brutal, heavy breakdown that suggests the album is going to be one of emotional release. The Dust of Fallen Rome rams that point home. As close as a ballad as the album allows (but still rattles through the verses with a synth-based chassis not unlike something of Caustic Grip), it slows things right down (and putting Sara’s vocals through a host of effects) for an unexpectedly melodic and catchy chorus that wrings every last drop of energy from Sara, by the sounds of things.
The title track has some of the dense production and synth-layering that is very much a Rhys Fulber trademark, but rattles through at a pace few FLA tracks have ever settled at (and features Ben Falghoust of Goatwhore assisting on vocals, too), while Anagnorisis is no less brilliant having heard it some months ago on that 7″ release.
Pick of the entire album is Doghead. Sara’s voice is again ragged with passion as she strains every muscle to deliver the necessary force, while the track underneath her has a bit more space in the mix – a pounding, mid-paced rhythm (think Skinny Puppy pace), with sweeps of synth and an arsenal of bleeps that are unexpectedly prominent, but the spotlights are very much on Sara here for what is, in my view, the best YC track yet.
Glass Spitter hits with the power of a prize-fighter, Sara roaring her vocals over what sounds like a bar fight, complete with searing, screeching samples and pounding beats like fists connecting with the wall, and after two-and-a-half minutes of that, it is no wonder that the following, slower Lacerate Wildly feels rather subdued and slight in comparison.
A chance to catch breath doesn’t last long, though, with Avengement ripping through another short track length with a thundering rhythmic base blurred by a storm of effects and a monster of a hook. Shift of Dismay is interesting in that it does something that some might have expected already from the band – it adds chugging guitars into the mix that only makes the rhythm even harder and heavier, and it sounds awesome, but even better is to come as Sara’s vocal gets multitracked for the breakdown, sounding at points like she is doing a call-and-response with herself.
The album closes with Lost At Sea, which starts out with the band in calmer waters before a (musical) storm rises and envelops them, Sara apparently attempting to guide them from it by the power of her voice alone.
As the synths gently fade out, and the sound of a metal door slamming shut signifies the end of the second round with Youth Code, it is time for reflection. This is an album of utter, raging fury, with a distinct advancement on the sound of the first album, and a sense of focus that is rather unnerving at points.
Clearly struggles away from music have inspired the rage barely contained within this release, but rather than result in relentless negativity, here is has been directed to make Youth Code sound better, to unleash every possible way to make their sound more powerful, and even more intense. Rhys Fulber is an important part of this, too, but there isn’t any point where his hand puts the duo’s own work into the shade.
Second albums, as the clichÃ© goes, are meant to be hard. Youth Code have simply made their second album hit all the harder, and the result is one of the best albums of 2016 so far, with no filler and much to admire.