:Music Review: Assemblage 23 – Bruise

Assemblage 23 – Bruise
Release date: June 12, 2012
Label: Metropolis Records

Review by: Zander Buel

It’s not easy being one of the top acts of a genre. It’s even worse when that genre is continuously being flooded by wave after wave of cliché, each one insisting on some unique facet contained within their music. The few that actually manage to stand out, such as Tom Shear’s Assemblage 23, are put under the microscope and analyzed at each angle to find some flaw in a new album or song. How does Bruise measure up to past works? Does it push boundaries? Is it daring, honest, and original? Does Tom prefer boxers or briefs?

All psychoanalyses aside, Tom Shear has been an innovator in EBM for over a decade now—often imitated, never replicated. Classics like Failure and Defiance have shown competence in catchy and imaginative synth layering and beats, as well as lyrics that show a very personal, human side. It’s not unfair to have high expectations for each new album, and inevitably, Bruise will be compared to past albums.

And Bruise delivers on every platform any fans could hope for. The staples are here—layered synths, industrial beats, and Shear’s highly introspective musings. It has undoubtedly been a winning formula for him for some time, and yet, Bruise still manages to be a game changer in a number of ways. Shear’s command over his voice seems perfected. He goes from low and brooding to soft and sympathetic. While his range is not remarkably heterogeneous, there is a very conscious and noticeable aura of confidence that has been consistently building with each successive album.

Shear has always been a wizard of synthesizer atmospherics, mixing trademark EBM dance sensibilities with softer, experimental layers that build, destroy, rise, and fall. Failure was harsh, imposing, and abrasive, and Storm sounded enormous and overwhelming. The compositions on Bruise are as exciting and interesting as ever. The dark industrial edges are smoothed with sugary sweet synthpop that never teeters on cheesiness. The atmosphere throughout the album is very organic and immersive, dancing in the air, rather than crushing or attacking the listener. It’s a perfect synergy of the rough, like “Darkflow,” and the soft, like “Outsider.”

The lyrical content concerns shattered relationships, the fear of taking the next step, inner frustration, isolation, and being damaged. In fact, the final track of the album, the huge and somber “Otherness,” is a portrayal of the album’s title: It’s about coming to terms with being human, and all of its encompassing emotional baggage.

Bruise doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but it didn’t have to. It’s a well-done collection of songs that distinguish and assimilate simultaneously to compose yet another very special album. Assemblage 23’s reputation as one of the premiere EBM bands is no coincidence, and the Bruise is a surefire sign that he’ll join the ranks of VNV Nation and Covenant in terms of innovation, reputation, and quality.

1. Crosstalk
2. The Last Mistake
3. Over & Out
4. The Noise Inside My Head
5. Outsider
6. Darkflow
7. Automaton
8. The Other Side of the Wall
9. Talk Me Down
10. Otherness

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