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 Review archive:  # a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z

Sektor 304 - Soul Cleansing [Malignant Records - 2009]

Sektor 304's 3rd release and first real album, "Soul Cleansing", released in 2009, is basically late 80's/early 90's cyberpunk industrial metal along the lines of Godflesh with a dash of EBM thrown in, a pinch of modern noise/power electronics along the lines of Wolf Eyes, and an extra dollup of post-apocalyptic science fiction cheese.  It doesn't explore any uncharted territory, but it's an enjoyable piece of work.

First, the good.  "Soul Cleansing" has a gritty, texturally creative and dynamic sound.  Guitars blend into crunchy noise textures, recordings of power tools and rhythmic ambient loops and it sounds as if metal is being scrapped feet away from you.  A certain wartorn jungle feel is achieved that's perfect for the kind of cyberpunk aesthetic they've chosen.  The cinematic sound and deep layering reminds me of the ambient sections of Front Line Assembly and Fear Factory songs, mostly created by Rhys Fulber.  Nothing new, but not particularly very pleasant to listen to.

The propulsive rhythms are the best thing about this disk.  The resonant, full sounds here are a mix of real, beautifully resonant drums presumably recorded by the band and synthetic sounds that still manage to capture the immediacy of performance.  They never sound sequenced or canned.  This is a welcome change from the usual distorted, repetitive thud found in power electronics or the pulsing, overloaded four on the floor sound of EBM.  The drummer's primal display of force here is akin to a more violent form of the shamanic drumming found on so many ritual ambient albums, showcased most powerful on the track "Blood Rush".  Their masterful groove is a confident mixture of organic, syncopated South American subtleties and the rigid, militaristic patterns of the original drum machines used in the 80's by Skinny Puppy, Front 242 and others.  They give the record an addictive earthy feel as well as the accessibility of danceability.  The rhythms on this disk have found their ways into my head, even if most of the other sounds have likely been forgotten.

Now, the bad - The cyber punk genre has long been a home for narrative albums and extensive conceptualization, with classic bands like Clock DVA attaching lengthy essays about lofty, futuristic scientific concepts to their work.  Here your imagination must create a world out of the sound alone, as this is band is lacking a quality writer/orator.  The lyrics and vocals are terribly generic, almost a parody of what have become known as cliche 'industrial lyrics'.  Phrases like "Day by day, one by one, it all comes to an end.  We pray for a new soul construction - half human half beast" (spoken in an ominous mutter over the otherwise effective ambience of "Pulse Generator")  or "Aggressive stimulation! / To destroy! / Death mantra! / Death mantra!" sound like someone had been listening to too much Godflesh, Fear Factory and The Klinik and hastily improvised something using the same vocabulary.  "Body Hammer" was already the name of a Fear Factory song on the "Demanufacture" album 15 years ago, and as for "Voodoo Machine"... Wasn't there an old SPK vinyl called "Machine Age Voodoo"?  This vocalist barks/grunts just like the vocalists of the above bands, but without their charisma or distinctive qualities, qualities that arguably made their often incredibly simple music what it was.  To be fair, the vocalist here is mostly barely audible, buried in the mix, but sadly the end result of these failures to distinguish from the pack is that the 'darkness' of "Soul Cleansing" is mostly skin deep and meaningless.  I can sense no sincere pain or anger behind this music that could form the inspiration for such violent sound, rather I sense an almost pathetic, worshipping admiration for the badassery of the progenitors of this style.  Indeed, in many cases, cyber punk bands like Front Line Assembly are really telling redundant horror stories rather than making truly relevant political points, but Sektor 304 has extended beyond the usual level of cheese and is truly impossible for me to take seriously.

Early in the album, many tracks fall back on the tired verse chorus verse formula.  Luckily, the band loses their structural predictability on the lengthier tracks, as well as much of their angsty pretention.  By the time we get to "Blood Rush", the music no longer sounds like Godflesh or even too much like the predictable earlier tracks in the album such as "Voodoo Machine".  It's more of a spiritual sound that even comes near points of zen on many occasions, culminating in the wavelike ambient cascade "Final Transmission".   The band shows their great sense of pacing and tension build and release - they know when to keep the songs active with changing parts and when to just jam out, and the longest tracks on the album end up being easily the best ones - the aforementioned "Blood Rush" and "Final Transmission" as well as the 8 minute dirge "The Beast" and "Death Mantra", which ends in 6 minutes of swirling, smoky drone and scratchy whisper.

So what we have here is a tried and true aesthetic merely copied and pulled off with competence if not distinction.  Suggestion - go relive the glory days and listen to who they're copying - Test Dept., early Scorn (see "Colossus"), Clock DVA's "Buried Dreams" and "Man-Amplified", Front Line Assembly's "Caustic Grip".  If you've digested the classics and still the need for more cyber punk records, "Soul Cleansing" should certainly satisfy, but I hope this band will drop the overdone, unconvincingly executed war imagery and subject matter and pursue the less obsessively dark, lighter ambient sound it seems would come naturally to them. This album gets 3 stars for the production and some of the later tracks, which are worth repeat listens.

Rating: 3 out of 5Rating: 3 out of 5Rating: 3 out of 5Rating: 3 out of 5Rating: 3 out of 5

Josh Landry
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