Hobart Blankenburg has been one of the Baltimore scene’s most ardent and prodigious figures, serving not only as a member of industrial act Nahja Mora, but also helming his own Precision Field project since 1997. Sadly, his life came to an end this year, the release of Love & Debauchery consequently leaving a somewhat bittersweet taste – an album of stark and decayed soundscapes and intricate arrangements that showcase Blankenburg’s prowess as a producer and a musician.
The prevalent use of gated synths and rhythmic distorted vocals are sure to draw some inescapable comparisons to early Skinny Puppy a la Cleanse Fold and Manipulate or even VIVIsectVI, while certain other moments evoke the more proto-EBM stylings of Portion Control or Geography-era 242. Case in point, “Hitchhiker” is one of the more tuneful and danceable tracks, the sweeping synth arpeggios creating a melodic bedrock upon which despondent vocals eventually give way to discordant analog synth phrases, and although the sustained chorale pads and metallic percussive thrusts that adorn “Fiend” and “Buried Alive” might provide something of a cinematic ambience that is quite welcome, they are still staples of the genre employed as much by the aforementioned emaciated canine as they are by Mentallo & The Fixer at their harshest or even Front Line Assembly at their most abstract. While the use of random samples evokes a decrepit and darkly engaging ambience throughout, sometimes used in lieu of vocals, they also run the risk of being obtrusive and tend to take away from the more interesting production flourishes of the album. This is truest on “House of Horrors,” the arpeggio loops and fluctuating tempo creating a psychedelic effect that one might liken to Pink Floyd’s “On the Run” or Download’s “Flight of the Luminous Insects,” if not for the mangled and quite unnecessary samples. Conversely, they certainly work in songs like “Captivity” and “Fright,” both of which are the stuff of nightmarish soundtracks, full of screams and sustained howls of torture and pain, while the disaffected vocals and bass drones are downright creepy. And then there are the bubbling and reverberant arpeggios of “Fraternal Instinct” creating a cosmic or even aquatic effect that steadily builds to a powerful dance rhythm, the vocals oscillating between throat and distorted to sharply melodic.
He may not have been reinventing the parameters of industrial music as much as he was presenting a refined and loving devotion to them in the same way groups like Statiqbloom and Dead When I Found Her are, but Love & Debauchery is just the proof of Hobart Blankenburg’s ability to stand toe-to-toe with those acts in terms of quality. Although he no longer walks among us on this mortal plain, this album will with any luck not be the last we hear of so capable and passionate an artist.