Few groups in recent years have imploded as spectacularly as Germany’s Atari Teenage Riot. They were on hand in the late ‘90s during the ill-fated “electronica” invasion, a slightly more dangerous noise-punk alternative to the Prodigy. After releasing a handful of studio albums in the late ‘90s, their American label, Grand Royal, quite violently folded in 2001, leaving the group and a number of other eclectic acts stranded without American distribution. Then later that same year during an indefinite hiatus for the group, founding member Carl Crack died, after which the band effectively dissolved.
Hanin Elias was ATR’s resident super-vixen, the sultry Teutonic kitten whose signature line, from the self-explanatory “Atari Teenage Riot” single, was “I don’t want to punish you, / I want to punish myself”. In the wake of ATR’s demise, she’s released two previous solo albums (2000’s In Flames compilation and 2003’s All Games No Fun) and recently completed a two-month American tour as a member of seminal industrial co-op Pigface. Although the commercial odds facing solo projects spun-off from electronic combos are historically poor (see Kelli Ali, Tweaker, Flightcrank), her persistence is admirable.
The problem with Future Noir is that her voice just isn’t as versatile as it needs to be to pull off the fairly wide range of material attempted. As a part of Atari Teenage Riot, her voice was just one element in a very large and violent organism, but here she doesn’t have waves of overwhelming static to hide behind anymore. Front and center, she’s a regrettably weak presence.
Thankfully, her production manages to occasionally ameliorate this lack. It’s nowhere near as dense as Alec Empire’s incredibly harsh drill & bass, but it retains a great deal of ATR’s violent future aesthetic: harsh static-drenched beats and bloody digital basslines. At its best, the album is angular and dynamic. When it slows down and attempts a more restrained trip-hop feel, the limitations of Elias’ voice are brought regrettably to the fore.
Tracks like “War (Extreme V4)” provide an admirable showcase for her limited strengths, with indefatigable electro beats set against her sensual sloganeering. The title track and “Burn” manage to summon a bit of this violent atmosphere as well, with similarly aggressive beats drafted to keep the track’s tempo appropriately swift and punishing.
But then, on tracks like “Untouchable”, she tries too hard to summon the ominous majesty of mid-tempo Nine Inch Nails, and the flaws in this approach become immediately evident. “After All” tries to achieve a sultry pop flavor, but the odd combination of Elias’ weak vocal skills and thick German accent lend her notes an unfortunate mood-killing warble.
Of note to fans of Atari Teenage Riot is the kiss-off anthem “Iced Icon”, wherein Elias rails against an unnamed—but strongly implied—male with control problems. “I should do what you want, / Serve in your army, / Before I’m good enough, / To please you”, she sings, before continuing in the chorus on the theme of “breaking the ice” which surrounds her persecutor. Of course this is only a guess, but the lack of any Alec Empire production on Future Noir points the finger quite accusingly at her notoriously controlling former bandleader.
Hanin Elias is a moderately talented singer well-suited to the kind of robust and violent anthems in which her former band specialized. Her sensuality was a welcome ingredient to offset the otherwise poisonous levels of punky testosterone. Alone, she just doesn’t have the versatility or charisma necessary to pull off a solo album.