SILICON MAY be supplanting steel in the manufacturing world, yet there's one sector where you can hear the clang of the foundry: industrial music, the silicon-chip dance beat for people whose idea of "hard-edged" is titanium steel. As the rise of industrial-dance nights at local clubs suggests, some of this stuff is just disco without the sweetening. But there's plenty (well, some) diversity, if rather little affability, to this music.
Front Line Assembly "Caustic Grip" (Wax Trax). These eight terse, throbbing tracks, mostly with one-word titles like "Resist," "Victim" or "Overkill," are principally the work of Skinny Puppy alumnus Bill Leeb, although with this album early collaborator Rhys Fulber has returned to the fold. The duo, which will appear Feb. 5 at the 9:30 club, deals in ominous chants and growls, harsh samples -- with frequent intimations of violence and corruption -- and relentless synth rhythms. More sinewy and direct than earlier FLA material, this sometimes recalls the pseudo-Teutonic pounding of Nitzer Ebb.
Front Line Assembly "The Initial Command" (ROIR, cassette only). Recorded shortly after Leeb split from the Puppies and hooked up with Fulber, this is FLA's 1987 debut, finally receiving its first U.S. release. Though welded from the same scrap metal, this is a little less, well, caustic than its predecessor. Its static, samples and space noises are both less streamlined and less harsh than on subsequent work, and there's even an occasional feint in the direction of melody: "Black March" -- which is a march of sorts -- sounds not unlike Depeche Mode.
Front 242 "Tragedy for You" (Epic). This 33-minute disc is actually a single, if that word has any meaning anymore: It contains seven different versions of the title tune, from the opening "12" Vox" to the closing "Neurodancer." The lyrics -- something about love being like acid rain, a typically industrial industrial-dance metaphor -- turn up regularly, as does a "red rover, red rover" sample, but the constant is the big, hollow synth-thump. Employing sawing violin-like sounds to introduce "12" Vox" and stripping the electrobeat even more naked for the two "Punish Your Machine" mixes, this Belgian "Newbeat" outfit has created a song cycle -- out of one song.
The Jackofficers "Digital Dump" (Rough Trade). This side project of Gibby and Jeff (members of another, even less politely named band -- family newspapers call them the B. Surfers) is a little funkier, and a little funnier, than most industrial. With their pop-cult sources (the "Mission Impossible" theme, for example) and goofy vocal manipulation, tracks like "Time Machines Pt. 1" recall teen rap and British acid-house more than Wax Trax doombeat. The moans and thumps of "An Hawaiian Christmas Song," however, are as formidable as anything ever forged in a Benelux dance-foundry.
Wreck "Soul Train" (Play It Again Sam). Even after two doses of Front Line Assembly, no one will mistake this album, produced by ex-Big Black frontman Steve Albini, for the Hollies. Still, there is something humanizing about the guitar, even when played this harsh and hard. The trio's mechano-beat owes a bit to the Fall, whose "Various Times" it covers, but the "train" tag makes sense too: Wreck is nothing is not propulsive. Indeed, Dean Schlabowske's slide guitar is as much a rhythm machine as Bart Flores's drums, and it's a combination that -- with all due respect to machines -- suggests that there still might be something to be said for human thumping after all.