With bassist/guitarist Dbot and drummer Dein Offizier joining founding vocalist and synth player Mach FoX in the studio, Minneapolis industrial/EBM act Zwaremachine has made some significant strides toward establishing a firmer creative identity, as exemplified by this sophomore album. Although the tenets of the genre remain on full display, Conquest 3000 shows the band members settled into clearly defined roles and bring a fresh sensibility to an otherwise tried-and-true formula of pulsating EBM and darkly atmospheric industrial. Although a certain level of repetition and monotony is employed on these 10 tracks, they all move with a fluidity and force that one can’t help but recall the simplicity of the early WaxTrax! era. The opening “International Hero” is immediately striking with the pumping beats and bass and grinding guitar tone, the heavy glitch manipulations infusing both the vocals and the song as a whole with a rhythmic vigor that is both engaging and disconcerting. The same can be said for “Ripping at the Fabric” with its straightforward and repetitive bass that sounds right out of the Front 242 playbook, although FoX’s searing vocals would perhaps be closer to the latter EBM sounds of Funker Vogt in their coarse yet melodic delivery. Other songs bear a closer resemblance to the initial stages of Front Line Assembly’s development; for instance, although not a cover, “Resist” bristles with a steely and persistent synth bass that evokes Bill Leeb at his best, the lyrical stabs of “Find yourself / you can resist” and “Don’t give in” giving the song that undeniably anthemic and defiant quality. Throw in some metal percussion, a few noisy synth fills, and Dbot’s bouncy bass solos, and it makes for one of the album’s best tracks, even if it does end in a conspicuously abrupt manner. Similarly, the drumbeats and piercing bass of “Parasol” bears an almost ‘80s new wave vibe, the caustic bass tone adding that ineffably funky groove to a darkly upbeat and sardonic track, the titular “Parasol” seeming to be an allegory for false hope in the face of unrelenting devastation. Throughout Conquest 3000 are some rather clever production touches, such as the flange and vocoder effects in “Toymaker” creating an almost chiming tonality to the vocals that is rather intriguing, while the singing Theremin-esque sounds on the title track add to its dystopian and cinematic ambience as the laments of “We could have been something else” resound rather poignantly. As well, the bell-like tones and minor chord shifts in the closing “Until Tomorrow” do little to detract from the song’s simplicity, but its true power lies in the lyrics, hitting hard with chants of a dreamstate where authoritarian regimes hold no sway; it’s rather nihilistic, as if to hint that tomorrow will be but a repeat of the grim reality that we can only avoid with fantasy. If nothing else, it ends the album on a perfectly decrepit note. Of course, there are guitars on this album, but they are relegated to the backend of the mix so as not to overtake and descend into chugging metal fury – this works quite well on a song like “Ripping at the Fabric,” but seems a touch impotent on “New Design,” making the song’s inherent aggression feel strained and perhaps more palpable in the live environment. As on the Be a Light debut, Conquest 3000 finds Zwaremachine holding true to the simplistic parameters of industrial/EBM, all the while infusing it with some creative flourishes and a brisk pace, along with a more confident and conceptual approach.