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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 (post-)industrial acts such as Cabaret Voltaire, Portion Control, D.A.F., Test Dept, SPK, and Severed Heads, FLA has developed its own unique 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 successful artists.
Between 1985 and 1986, Bill Leeb supported Skinny Puppy under the name Wilhelm Schroeder. Wilhelm is Leeb's real first name while Schroeder stems from the Peanuts character of the same name and was meant as a joke. Leeb later recounted how cEvin Key came up with the idea: "Kevin said, 'Hey, you should call yourself Wilhelm Schroeder,' because it was cEvin Key and Nivek Ogre, those weren't their real names. That was more of a joke thing." As an early friend of the band Leeb started off with no knowledge about electronic instruments, according to cEvin Key: "When I first met Bill, [...] he did not play any instruments. I remember going to get his first Moog for $300. It was around the time of 'Cage', because we wrote that one together right away." While increasing his knowledge, Leeb considered learning from scratch an advantage. "I think the fact that we didn't have any musical training, gave us free range", he said, "The words 'experimental electronic music' really come to mind as to how we did that." Leeb contributed bass synth and backing vocals for several tracks while also supporting their 1985 tour. His drug experiences at the time, though Leeb felt no need to repeat it at later times, added to his creativity. "You can always draw from that experience of when you were there and what the ambiance and the feeling was like. It's not like you need to go there every year to recapture that moment.", Leeb stated. Since Leeb did not want to continue with the next tour, splitting up with Skinny Puppy was imminent. "In early 1986, Bill didn't want to tour again", said cEvin Key, "so I politely told him that we needed to get someone more dedicated." Leeb and Skinny Puppy did not separate in a fight, though, as Key stressed, "It wasn't so negative. We actually went on to make an LP a few years later, and we have been polite to each other since."
Leeb reflects on this period, "Skinny Puppy was a good starting point for me, but there was definitely no way for me to get my ideas across." Also, Leeb wanted to take an active role as vocalist. His experiences working with Skinny Puppy gave him some insight in the industry and helped shape his ideas for his own personal career. Contacts in the music scene he had gathered while with Skinny Puppy facilitated the advancement of his own project, leading to contract offers from the first two labels that Leeb later approached with cassettes. Leeb appreciated that Skinny Puppy would cast a long shadow over his own musical efforts after leaving the band. "Sometimes, you break away from a band, and the band has such a strong image that you're always going to be forever compared to those guys," Leeb said, "I knew it was a big risk because the band was already taking off and stuff, but I think it was all for the best."
The name of his new band reflects Leebs view of the world at the time. "The name came to me from just hearing people's struggles all over the world on the news all the time", he revealed after the formation of Front Line Assembly, "The only way people can fight back is to assemble in groups. We are fed so much information through the media that no one knows what to believe anymore. So Front Line Assembly means fighting the communications war."
Upon the formation of Front Line Assembly, Leeb produced the Nerve War demo tape which was distributed on a limited basis. Around this time, Leeb and Rhys Fulber became friends when they discovered they both had a similar interest in underground music. "He was playing cool underground tapes that I liked. Not many people then were into that kind of music", recalls Fulber. 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.
Early releases and working with Balch (1987–1989)
The first appearance of Front Line Assembly was on the compilation For Your Ears Only, released in 1987 by British independent record label Third Mind showcasing the label's repertoire at the time. The band contributed the track "Aggression" which 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 between Front Line Assembly and the label, the band debuted its first album The Initial Command with credited assistance by Fulber and 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. With the next album State of Mind, released in January 1988, the band switched to German independent label Dossier.
Having assumed producing and mixing duties before, Balch emerged as official band member in 1988 and began writing songs alongside Leeb for the next few albums. Balch mostly contributed by providing keyboards and programming. As Leeb put it, "I would write the songs, and he was really good with the software." This partnership produced the releases Corrosion and Disorder. Originally planned to be issued on Canadian label Nettwerk, which ultimately failed "because of politics and the previous Skinny Puppy relationship", both records mark the beginning of the cooperation with Third Mind in 1988. Label founder Gary Levermore recalled "Bill Leeb get in touch soon after he started Front Line Assembly and actually sending me two finished masters which became Corrosion and Disorder." 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.
The change in labels for the first few releases before finally sticking with Third Mind was a deliberate choice. The reason for that was that Leeb did not want to be bound to a label. Therefore, all releases before Corrosion were issued only on European labels, which changed with Corrosion and subsequent albums. Adhering to Third Mind for Europe and Wax Trax! for North America made Front Line Assembly releases significantly more available. According to Leeb, this arrangement "worked out much better as far as distribution and promotion. [...] Third Mind is getting very good distribution in Europe." Being signed to Third Mind also helped catching the attention of established music magazines such as Melody Maker or NME as well as underground magazines such as Music From the Empty Quarter. 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. Fueled by growing success and in support of their latest release, the band, together with Rhys Fulber as live metal percussionist, headed out to Europe and North America for their first tour which were met "with rave reviews for F.L.A.'s powerful live act." 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. For Balch it was also the last Front Line Assembly tour since he parted ways to join Ministry and Revolting Cocks.
The Fulber era: instant classics and growing popularity (1990–1996)
Filling the void, Rhys Fulber officially joined, "a natural progression", according to Leeb, which changed the working routine in the band. "The working situation in the band is a lot different because Rhys is working with me on everything, and his taste runs more into electronic music, just like me", said Leeb, noting that Fulber was "a lot more fun to work with." 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. British music magazine Melody Maker elected both album singles Single of the week while the promotional video for Iceolate received some airplay on MTV. On Caustic Grip the band started working with Greg Reely which would evolve into a long-term partnership. The tour in support of the album started in January 1991 in the United States to be followed by a European leg in February which was accompanied by the release of stand-alone single Virus the same month. 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.
In 1992, Front Line Assembly reached a turning point in the band's musical style with the album Tactical Neural Implant. Leeb and Fulber intended to create an album with the intensity of Caustic Grip but with song structures "like bands who really write songs." After a week, the duo gave up that method and started over. Their new method, as described by Leeb, was just finding what "sounds good." The resulting album pushed FLA's style toward a hard-edged disco while "having more in common with Nine Inch Nails than Skinny Puppy." This album helped FLA become one of industrial music's most popular bands. The next album Millennium (1994) 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) and the world tour following the release was FLA's most successful commercial and critical period.
The Peterson era: return to electronic sounds (1997–2002)
In 1997, Fulber left the band to concentrate on producing Fear Factory along with other bands. Chris Peterson, who had already supported the band's live shows, replaced Fulber. Soon after Fulber quit, the 1997 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 made somewhat of a return to their former sound with the album Implode (1999), followed by Epitaph (2001), as well as half of the soundtrack for the video game Quake III Arena in 1999. Chris Peterson left FLA in 2002. Through most of that year it was rumoured that the band had essentially broken up.
From classic line-up towards a full-fledged band (2003–2008)
Rhys Fulber rejoined the band in 2003. The reunited duo released the single Maniacal in October of that same year, launching a new phase in the band's career. The next year, they released the studio album Civilization. Chris Peterson later rejoined the band to release Artificial Soldier in 2006. The following tour was cut short due to a problem with the company supplying the tour bus. The band acknowledged that they were returning home to Vancouver earlier than planned after playing roughly half of their scheduled tour in the United States (dates in New York and Canada were canceled). The band toured in Europe in August 2006 covering 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. After the release of the remix album, the band went out to tour North America and Europe.
A new style of writing and new success (2009–2011)
In 2010, Front Line Assembly, with new members Jeremy Inkel and Jared Slingerland, released a new single, Shifting Through the Lens, and album, Improvised Electronic Device.
As described on Dependent Records' website, the album is described as "stronger and more danceable" when compared to immediately previous releases. "Angriff", the second single from the album, is further described as "wandering on metal paths reminiscent of Rammstein and their own Millenium [sic] album." In 2012, Leeb mentioned that a new album will be completed by the end of the year, though no official announcement or tour date has been released.
Back to the electronic roots and new influences (2012–2014)
Having integrated guitars into their sound since the late 1980s, either sampled or as live guitars, FLA set the stage in 2012 for the return to an exclusively electronic soundscape. This change could be heard when the band released the soundtrack album AirMech for the video game of the same name at the end of 2012. Comprising only instrumental tracks, AirMech laid some grounds for 2013 full-length album Echogenetic, as Bill Leeb recalls in an interview with Rock Sins: "I guess this sound of this record maybe it started pretty much with the record we did prior called AirMech." Echogenetic was widely praised by critics and hit the charts in the United States and in Germany. Entering the official German charts was an all-time first in the band's history. The following European promo tour took place in August 2013 and included dates in Russia, Germany, Hungary, the Czech Republic, and the UK.
The spelling of the band name has varied over the years. Various albums (e.g. from the early State of Mind to the recent Artificial Soldier) spell the name in compound form ("Frontline Assembly") while the majority spell it in three words. (The abbreviation "FLA", also used on various albums, suggests that the correct spelling, to the extent that there is one, is indeed three separate words.) The music press has consequently not used any consistent spelling. During touring for Hard Wired, Rhys Fulber explained the band's stance on the matter, referring to "Front Line": "Two words – I guess that ultimately it doesn't matter, but we prefer two words."
The current official line-up of Front Line Assembly consists of:
Front Line Assembly