Front 242 seem to be getting increasingly schizophrenic these days, their style disappearing off in different directions with alarming frequency. Tyranny >For You< added noise to the basic EBM ingredients they'd been using up until then, 06:21:03:11 Up Evil saw them introducing guitars and ambient instrumentals, 05:22:09:12 Off added female vocals and a more obvious techno influence while exploring instrumentals further. Now this new EP, Angels Versus Animals combines both, careening madly between techno, metal and anything else they can lay their hands on. All this while they tour the US with a show that seems to hark back more to their old, pre- 06:21:03:11 Up Evil sound than their recent material.
I've already briefly touched on the radio edit of "Animal" in my review of the 2-track "Animal" single but that's no reason not to cover it again here. "Animal" in its original form on 05:22:09:12 Off was unusual for Front 242 in having (distorted) female vocals but it otherwise retained their recognisable style which came through even more strongly in the one mix of the track that had vocals by Jean-Luc de Meyer. The radio edit takes one of the female vocal mixes as its starting point, cleans up the track somewhat (less dissonance, no extended intro) and adds a vaguely "Funky Drummer"-ish beat and more in the way of guitar work. It works quite well, but I prefer the original - the dance beat gets in the way here and sounds slightly gratuitous.
Next is the "Wipe Out" mix of "Modern Angel" - extended but, despite the reassuring familiarity of the intro, a very different beast from the original. The Frontmen seem to be heavily into guitars at the moment and this mix sounds closer to Nine Inch Nails or Ministry than to the electronic body music usually associated with the group. The combination is somewhat intriguing, with 99 Kowalski's vocals, plenty of driving guitars and the eerie mock operatics of the original track playing off each other rather nicely.
The third track in the "Serial Killers" series (the first two were on 05:22:09:12 Off has been re-mixed by Jean-Marc Lederman and is, despite the rather over-familiar house beat, pretty good. The terminally distorted vocals of the original remain, but are simultaneously distorted further and toned down, while Lederman's additional production work means the remixed track flows along nicely in a more relaxed manner than either of the two previous versions.
The fourth track is a remix of "Modern Angel" by Sasha Konietzko of KMFDM. Given that band's distinctive sound, it's surprisingly anonymous. The beat has been beefed up, there's some added synth work, and there's the inevitable added guitars but otherwise little has been done and the flavour of the original track shines through far more strongly than on, say, the "Wipe Out" mix. Still a good mix though. Next is an extended version of "Animal" that's essentially the "Radio" mix (ie added backbeat and guitars) stretched out somewhat.
"Break Me (Female)" is a fairly drastic remix of "Animal" that sheds any remaining guitars, throws away all the vocals except the "Break me" refrain and takes the track far more firmly into techno territory. Fairly good.
"Der Verfluchte Engel" ("Damned Angel") is a rather wonderful, dark and brooding remix of "Modern Angel" that combines a slow, determined beat with elements of the "Speed Angels" track from 05:22:09:12 Off and plenty of noise. It's a pretty big departure from the original track and tends towards the repetitive but is excellent stuff nonetheless, with a wonderfully distorted outro.
By contrast "L'Ange Moderne" is an extremely attractive piece, combining the operatics of the original with peaceful string synths and a pleasant piano melody. It's the absolute antithesis of the industrial hell of "Damned Angel", and reminds me somewhat of recent In The Nursery. Darker overtones do emerge eventually, but the track as a whole is very grandiose and orchestral and probably the prettiest thing I've ever heard from Front 242. Then, suddenly and without warning, you find yourself flung straight into high-BPM hardcore techno before just as quickly dropping back into the orchestral realm. Absolutely wonderful, if a little strange in places. Undoubtedly the best thing on the EP though.
The disc is rounded off by the bizarrely atypical "Born To Breathe" - electronic grindcore with rapped lyrics. Very un-242 but strangely compelling and with a downright weird extended outro (that isn't on the version on the single) - after the song there's around 10 minutes of what can be best described as continuously repeating electronic air-raid sirens followed by a brief, minimalist instrumental track. Rather good, and the 10 minutes of noise is right up there with the worst of Non for repetitive annoyance value :-)
Overall, I'm extremely impressed. The EP is even more varied than 05:22:09:12 Off , which is no mean feat. The two "foreign language" remixes of "Modern Angel" are definitely the best things on the disc and "L'Ange Moderne" in particular is fantastic, "Born To Breathe" is...interesting, especially the bizarre outro, and tracks like "Angel (Wipe Out)" and "Serial Killers" are also well worth a listen. There aren't any noticeably dud tracks on the disc, although the KMFDM remix of "Modern Angel" and the radio and extended versions of "Animal" fail to hold the interest as well as the better tracks. Definitely one for the more adventurous Front 242 fan though, and this disc completes a nice trio of excellent releases from 242 this year. If you liked 05:22:09:12 Off , you'll love this one.
Erland Rating: +3
Al Crawford (firstname.lastname@example.org)