Front Line Assembly

Front Line Assembly
20160305 Oberhausen E-Tropolis Frontline Assembly 0097.jpg
Front Line Assembly performing at the 2016 E-Tropolis Festival
Background information
OriginVancouver, British Columbia, Canada
Years active1986 (1986)–present
Associated acts
MembersBill Leeb
Rhys Fulber
Jason Bazinet
Jeff Swearengin
Past membersMichael Balch
Chris Peterson
Jeremy Inkel
Jared Slingerland
Adrian White
Jed Simon

Front Line Assembly (FLA) is a Canadian electro-industrial band formed by Bill Leeb in 1986 after leaving Skinny Puppy. Influenced by early electronic and industrial acts such as Cabaret Voltaire, Portion Control, D.A.F., Test Dept, SPK, and Severed Heads,[1] FLA has developed its own sound while combining elements of electronic body music (EBM). The band's membership has rotated through several members over the years, including Rhys Fulber and Michael Balch who are both associated with several other acts.

Since their inception, the group have produced over a dozen studio albums and EPs, several of which have charted on Billboard's Top Dance/Electronic Album chart. The albums Tactical Neural Implant and Hard Wired are two of the group's most successful records, the former being considered a classic among industrial music fans. They have also produced soundtracks for video games such as Quake III: Team Arena (a collaboration with Sonic Mayhem) and AirMech. Their most recent studio album was Wake Up the Coma, released in 2019.


Formation (1985–1986)

Between 1985 and 1986, Bill Leeb performed with Skinny Puppy under the name Wilhelm Schroeder, a combination of his first name and the name of the Peanuts character and was meant as a joke.[2] Leeb had no musical training, and learned to play synthesizer while contributing bass synth and backing vocals for the band.[3][4] He also supported their 1985 tour.[5] Not prepared for another tour, Leeb left Skinny Puppy in early 1986.[3][3]

Having developed some instrumental skills and music industry experience,[6] and wanting to do more vocal work,[1] Leeb decided to take the risk of starting his own project.[4][7] Leeb decided to call the project Front Line Assembly to reflect his belief that strength lies in working together.[1]

Leeb started by producing a demo tape, Nerve War, which was distributed on a limited basis. Contacts in the music scene he had gathered while with Skinny Puppy led to contract offers from the first two labels that Leeb later approached with cassettes.[7]

Around this time, Leeb and Rhys Fulber became friends when they discovered they both had a similar interest in underground music. As an unofficial member at this time, Fulber partnered with Leeb during the production of Total Terror and was credited for the song "Black Fluid" on the demo. Both demo releases were limited to 100 and mostly distributed amongst friends.[5]

Early releases and Michael Balch (1987–1989)

The first appearance of Front Line Assembly was the track "Aggression",[8] which was included on the compilation For Your Ears Only, released in 1987 by British independent record label Third Mind[9] showcasing the label's repertoire at the time. The track would be re-released the following year on the Disorder EP. Although the contact to Third Mind would later develop into a long-standing collaboration, the band debuted its first album The Initial Command with credited assistance by Fulber and Michael Balch on Belgian independent record label KK at the end of 1987. The album had been produced on a tight budget which would determine whether or not cuts would be done with an eight track system or split into two four track cuts.[10] With the next album State of Mind, released in January 1988, the band switched to German independent label Dossier.[11] They changed labels as Leeb did not want to be bound to one label,[7] so the releases were issued only on European labels.[5]

In 1988, Balch became as official band member[5] and began writing songs alongside Leeb for the next few albums. Balch mostly contributed by providing keyboards and programming.[6] This partnership produced the releases Corrosion and Disorder. A planned release on the Canadian label Nettwerk fell through,[10] and the two finished masters were issued instead by Third Mind in 1988.[12] Through Levermore Corrosion was licensed to Wax Trax!. Both records were re-released together with three more unreleased tracks on the compilations Convergence later that year and Corroded Disorder in 1995.

Adhering to Third Mind for Europe and Wax Trax! for North America resulted in better availability of the albums in both places,[5] and the signing with Third Mind attracted the attention of established music magazines, including Melody Maker[13][14][15][16] or NME[17] as well as the underground magazine Music From the Empty Quarter.[18]

Front Line Assembly produced their next album Gashed Senses & Crossfire in 1989. This album introduced their first single Digital Tension Dementia which became their first chart success and peaked at position 45 of the Billboard Hot Dance Club Songs chart.[19] In support of their latest release, the band, together with Fulber as live metal percussionist, headed out to Europe and North America for their first tour. However, during the show in London in July 1989 their first live album Live was recorded under unfavourable circumstances. Presumably not well attended, the audience's reactions at the show had to be reworked.[20] For Balch it was also the last Front Line Assembly tour since he parted ways to join Ministry and Revolting Cocks.[6][9]

Rhys Fulber and growing popularity (1990–1999)

Filling the void left by Balch's departure, Fulber officially joined.[6][21] The two musicians had similar tastes, both being enthusiastic about electronic music.[22][22] The duo recorded their next album, Caustic Grip, in the first half of 1990. Accompanied by the release of two singles in 1990, Iceolate and Provision, the album raised Front Line Assembly's profile in the industrial music scene and in the media considerably.[7][9] Melody Maker elected both album singles Single of the week[20] while the promotional video for Iceolate[23] received some airplay on MTV.

On Caustic Grip the band started working with Greg Reely which would evolve into a long-term partnership.[9] The tour in support of the album started in January 1991 in the United States[24] to be followed by a European leg in February which was accompanied by the release of stand-alone single Virus the same month.[9] Chris Peterson, who would later become a full-time member of Front Line Assembly, gave his debut for the band on this tour, completing the live line-up as percussionist.

Rhys Fulber performing with Front Line Assembly at the 2016 E-Tropolis Festival
Rhys Fulber performing with Front Line Assembly in 2016

In 1992, Front Line Assembly reached a turning point in the band's musical style with the album Tactical Neural Implant. The media, including Melody Maker,[25] Siren Magazine[26] and fanzine Industrial Strength[27] all commented particularly on the more melodious approach featured on the album and noted the use of multi-layered sounds which would become a trademark of the band. Asked about this composing style by Industrial Nation, Leeb explained that the band continually experimented with new ways to use technology to make each recording different, and had focused on clarity and sustain in their instrumentation and structure in their songs.[28][29]

The video for the first single off the album, Mindphaser, was awarded "Best Alternative Video" at Much Music's 1992 Canadian Music Video Awards.[30] In August 1992, Front Line Assembly embarked on a tour that covered Northern America and Europe.[31] The album continues to be played in industrial and electronic music dance clubs and is considered a classic among listeners and musicians of industrial music.[32][33]

The next album Millennium (1994)[11] featured a combination of metal guitars, electronic music, and media sampling (much of which was taken from the Michael Douglas film Falling Down) which had become one of the characteristics of industrial rock and industrial metal during the 1990s. Hard Wired (1995)[11] and the world tour following the release was FLA's most successful commercial and critical period.[citation needed]

In September 1996 the band made a live performance in Vancouver for the MuchMusic Video Awards which was broadcast via satellite.[34]

In 1997, Fulber left the band to concentrate on producing Fear Factory with other bands. Chris Peterson, who had already supported the band's live shows, replaced Fulber. Soon after Fulber's departure, the album [FLA]vour of the Weak was released. Yet again, the album was stylistically divergent from previous releases. The metal influences found in Millennium gave way to a more electronica sound within the new release.

Front Line Assembly returned somewhat to their former sound with the album Implode (1999). Front Line Assembly composed the soundtrack for the video game, Quake III Team Arena. In October 1999, it was made public that the band had left their label Metropolis.[35]

Success in the new millennium (2000–2011)

The band followed up Implode with the 2001 album Epitaph. This was the final album worked on by Peterson before departing in 2002.[36] The album was a critical success[37] and spawned the single "Everything Must Perish".[38] The album also marked the band's return to Metropolis records.[39]

Jeremy Inkel (left) and Bill Leeb (right) performing live at Magic Stick in Detroit in 2007 as Front Line Assembly
Bill Leeb and Jeremy Inkel performing in 2007

Fulber rejoined the band in 2003. The reunited duo released the single "Maniacal" in October of that year. The single peaked at No. 15 on Billboard's Hot Dance Singles.[40] The next year, they released the studio album Civilization, which landed the No. 2 position on the German Alternative Albums chart.[41] Peterson later rejoined the band to release Artificial Soldier in 2006. It was the first album to feature new members Jeremy Inkel and Jared Slingerland.[42] The album peaked on Billboard's Top Dance/Electronic Albums chart at No. 19.[43] After a problem with the tour bus company, the US tour that year was cut short, and the band returned home to Vancouver after playing roughly half of their scheduled dates; performances in New York and Canada were cancelled. The band toured in Europe in August 2006, playing in 18 cities.

In April 2007, Front Line Assembly released a remix album titled Fallout. The album was released in a 4-panel digipak and featured three previously unreleased tracks ("Electric Dreams," "Unconscious," and "Armageddon") and nine remixes by several other Industrial acts and names.[44] After the release of the remix album, the band went out to tour North America and Europe.

In 2010, Front Line Assembly released two new singles, "Shifting Through the Lens" and "Angriff", and an album, Improvised Electronic Device. The album reached No. 23 on Billboard's Top Dance/Electronic Albums chart[43] and was supported by a series of tours throughout North America and Europe.[45] Peterson once more left the band, starting a T-shirt company with his brother.[46] The band completed the line-up with live drummer Jason Bazinet.[47]

Back to electronic roots and new influences (2012–)

Having integrated guitars into their sound since the late 1980s, either sampled or as live guitars, FLA returned in 2012 to making exclusively electronic music. This change was heard on the soundtrack album AirMech for the video game of the same name at the end of 2012.[48] Comprising only instrumental tracks, AirMech laid some grounds for 2013 full-length album Echogenetic[49] Echogenetic was widely praised by critics, who also noted the dubstep influences on the record, and hit the charts in the United States[50] and in Germany. Entering the official German charts was a first in the band's history. On the occasion of the release of Echogenetic Front Line Assembly announced a remix album[51] which was released in May 2014 under the moniker of Echoes.[52]

Bill Leeb and Jeremy Inkel performing with Front Line Assembly in 2016.
Bill Leeb (right) and Jeremy Inkel performing in 2016

Shortly after the release of Echogenetic the band started promoting the album with an extensive tour schedule in Europe and North America. In August 2013, Front Line Assembly covered dates in Russia, Germany, Hungary, the Czech Republic, and the UK. They continued their tour in Europe in June 2014, playing shows in Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Germany, Sweden, Finland and France, this time also in support of Echoes.[53] Former member Fulber joined the band for their last European leg in October and November 2014 in Poland and Germany, where they performed with a philharmonic orchestra in Leipzig, a first for the band.[54]

The same month Front Line Assembly returned from Europe, they were asked on short notice to join Leeb's former band Skinny Puppy on their Eye vs Spy North American tour as supporting band after VNV Nation, previously booked for the slot, had opted out.[55] On some dates, Fulber joined them. At the Vancouver show Leeb performed with Skinny Puppy on their encore song Assimilate.[56]

Resuming tour activities, the band gave a number of concerts in September and November 2015. They started off with a show in Vancouver[57] and went on to headline the second day of the Cold Waves industrial festival in Chicago.[58] The accompanying festival CD, released in October, featured an exclusive remix of Next War from Slighter.[59] In November the band followed up with their first show in Mexico City, supported by Mexican electro-industrial band Hocico, and a gig in Guadalajara both of which were also supported by Canadian electro-industrial group Decoded Feedback.[60]

October 2014 saw the return of former long-time band member Rhys Fulber, joining Front Line Assembly on their European tour.[61] In late October 2016, the band announced that a new album was in the making, including contributions by Rhys Fulber,[62] In March 2017 an announcement followed that the successor of sound track album AirMech was ready for release.[63] The band supported industrial rock band Revolting Cocks on their North American tour the same year.[64]

Keyboardist Jeremy Inkel died January 23, 2018 due to complications resulting from an asthma condition, at the age of 34.[65]

In March 2018 the band announced a joint European tour with German electro-industrial band Die Krupps under the moniker of "The Machinists United Tour 2018".[66] The tour will be preceded by the release of the soundtrack album WarMech, successor of 2015's AirMech, in June. Also, the band completed work on their 17th studio album, Wake Up the Coma, which was released in February 2019.[67]