Although it’s been 15 years since we’ve been granted a new album under the banner of Noise Unit, it’s not as if Bill Leeb and Rhys Fulber haven’t been busy with Front Line Assembly and other projects. However, even as their primary outlet has continued to delve into varying degrees of electro/industrial exploration, fans have been eager for another helping of Noise Unit’s more straightforward sound, targets locked firmly on the dance floor. With Deviator, Leeb and Fulber go back to the basics that not only defined the illustrious side project’s past efforts, but even recalls the primitive simplicity of their first outings in FLA.
A slow buildup of haunting atmosphere accentuated by a rapid-fire percussive pulse starts us off in “Plight.” As soon as the beat enters, and we drift into a haze of distorted techno upon which Leeb’s insidious vocal hovers dispassionately, a resonant vocoder eventually appearing robotic and menacing to elevate the track into a mechanically ambient miasma. There’s no doubt now that it’s Noise Unit as the album then proceeds into proto-EBM excursions like the punchy “Body Aktiv” and “Deviator,” as well as “Fargo Field” with its hypnotic mechanoid arpeggiation and scratchy bass. The same can be said of the junky whiplash beats and bubbling synth and vocal effects of “Empath” and the almost funky pseudo-IDM groove of “Initiate.” “Atrocity Obsession” immediately distinguishes itself with scratchy guitars and Raymond Watts’ familiar baritone growl, making for the album’s most memorable track; we shouldn’t be surprised if the Mighty Swine releases his own PIG version of the song in the near future. On the other hand, “K7” with its more cinematic layers of pads and Leeb’s signature vocal cadences, along with the striking ascending/descending melodies of “Recognize,” and to a marginal extent the aforementioned title track all feel more reminiscent of FLA and might have been better served on the Mechanical Soul released earlier this year.
That last Front Line Assembly album had in this writer’s opinion harbored a more electronic and somewhat more monotonous feel that at the time felt tepid and uninspired; conversely, Deviator followed months later and presents that sound and style far more effectively and masterfully in the context of Noise Unit. Along with Fulber’s recent leanings into more experimental techno in his solo output, one has to wonder if Leeb and Fulber were simply going through the motions with FLA’s Mechanical Soul. Of course, given their prolific activity and remarkable pedigree, it’s not as if they had anything to prove either way. Be that as it may, Deviator is a solid entry in the Noise Unit catalog, delivering a sweet taste of archetypal electro/EBM as only the pioneers could offer.