Front man Alec Empire's heavily processed guitar riffs and typical break-beats serve only to make one wonder if he had been frozen in a cryogenic chamber for the past 11 years.
Controversial German digital hardcore group Atari Teenage Riot are back with their fourth studio album 10 years after the tragic death of their original MC, Carl Crack. It is also their first album in 11 years since their supposed breakup in 2000, but instead of doing things a little bit differently from the past, they have chosen instead to stick with the same sound from a decade ago which, compounded by the fact that their lyrics are still as politically inclined as before with no discernible deeper underlying meanings to them, only restricts the group’s potential for more creativity and greater musical maturity.
Out of the trio’s vocals, Nic Endo’s shouts are the most dominant and present throughout all of the tracks. Frontman Alec Empire and new MC, CX KiDTRONiK, take the backstage by providing speaking-cum-rapping backup to Endo. Starting the album right off with its first track and single, “Activate”, the listener is assaulted by Endo’s signature looping noise samples that lead right into an intense series of hyper-speed beats by Empire’s TR-909 drum machine (with CX KiDTRONiK shouting politically charged slogans alongside it) before the entire digital sound cast is completed with Empire’s immensely recognizable heavy guitar riffs and blazin’ break-beats.
Unfortunately, descriptions like this with different arrangements of words and replacement of certain terms with synonyms can practically be used to describe almost any other track on this album. While the chaotic and occasionally futuristic sound of the combination of CX KiDTRONiK’s 8-bit synths and Endo’s noise samplers (as can be heard on the second, seventh and eighth tracks, “Blood in My Eyes”, “Rearrange Your Synapses” and “Digital Decay”, respectively) give the album a strong connection to its introspective title, that is it. Their electronic instruments’ sequences are pretty much the only aspect of the album that sounds like what the album is supposed to sound like, as Empire’s heavily processed guitar riffs and typical break-beats serve only to make one wonder if he had been frozen in cryogenic slumber for the past 11 years, hence preserving the same old him from 2000.
The lyrics are as political as a Taiwanese citizen can get, and honestly, what is the point of singing/shouting about political issues when all it achieves is usually all talk and no action? Lines like “What they call law / is used to restrain us ordinary citizens who are opposed to this (cyber-attacks, apparently)” from the third track, “Black Flags”, and the repetitive chanting of “… government control / too much government control” from the single “Activate” come across as rants reminiscent of that rebellious teenaged mindset everyone has to go through during puberty. Although its straightforward nature makes the group’s agenda easy to understand, it is an outdated approach in our modern era and only addresses issues that everyone already obviously knows about.
Musically, standout tracks to note would be the groovy “Black Flags”, the funky-yet-eclectic sixth track, “Shadow Identity”, and the hallucinatory eighth track, “Digital Decay”. The second half of the last track, “Collapse of History”, deserves mention for its gimmicky and novel usage of a futuristic-sounding sampling sequence that creates the impression of a knob being twisted to and fro in an attempt to reach the correct frequency channel on some kind of imaginary radio broadcasting a mechanical voice recording of a “Resistance” message. Other than these, the rest of the album’s tracks are begging to be played at anarcho-punk clubs as white noise that would be nice to dance to, but easily forgotten soon after.
Overall, this is not a strong comeback for Germany’s seminal digital hardcore act. Ordinary ATR fans might be better off not buying this record and saving that wad of cash for better purchasing options elsewhere. Needless to be said, hardcore ATR fans would most probably appreciate this record for the sake of nostalgia, and so be it.