Tuesday 17 November 2020

Powerman 5000 - The Noble Rot (2020)

Country: USA
Style: Alternative/Industrial Metal
Rating: 7/10
Release Date:
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It's been fantastic to see a host of new releases over the last couple of years from bands that I thought were long gone, whether because they split up years ago or because they epitomise an era that's long gone. Powerman 5000 firmly sit in the latter category, as they've never split up since their founding in 1991, but they're so close to what I think of as the sound of the US in 1999 that I'm surprised to find a constant stream of albums to their name. This is their tenth album and they've never had more than a three year gap between any of them.

This starts well, with a song called Cannibal Killers That Kill Everyone. It's precisely is what I expect of Powerman 5000: a Sisters of Mercy groove dirtied up with industrial texture but never losing its sheer catchiness. Even lyrically, it does just what I expect, with a chorus that runs "Cannibal rising, cannibal roar, cannibal pimps and cannibal whores, cannibal daughters, cannibal sons, cannibal killers that kill everyone." It's short and simple but it does its job well and suddenly I remember that MTV used to play music videos. Could this be the December level of our 2020 Jumanji game?

Then they shift into a trendier, more industrial sound. Brave New World features a stop/start beat, an array of electronic sounds in lieu of standard riffs and almost rapped vocals. Play God or Play Dead is similar sans the rap. Special Effects restores an incessant beat and plays with samples to end up oddly like Max Headroom covering Billy Idol. We Got the Beat is a Go-Go's cover, of all things, but it works in this much darker industrial metal context, if not as well as it could.

The other common sound here is old school goth/new wave. Black Lipstick is an overt homage to that era of the early eighties, namechecking Bauhaus. Let the Insects Rule plays with darkwave in the way that Adam Ant might have done, had his later solo career found an influence from Nine Inch Nails rather than Prince. Strange People Doing Strange Things reminds of Adam Ant too, but much earlier when he was coming out of the punk era and creating something new in that vibrant British indie scene of 1979 and 1980. Another name obvious from Strange People and Movie Blood is Gary Numan, a primary influence on Trent Reznor and clearly Spider One of Powerman 5000.

This is surprisingly strong and consistent and it ably explains to me why this band still exists. It may not be my genre of choice, but this is dark and energetic material that's impossible to ignore. It's well within the bounds of possibility that I'll wake up tomorrow morning with one of a half dozen of these songs playing in my head. They're about as infectious as the COVID-19 virus and I know which of those choices I'd prefer to take over society.

I've reviewed a lot of albums lately that look back at the eighties and that's not too surprising, given the current nostalgia point, but it does seem weird to find a band so identified with the late nineties to do the same thing. Play these songs to someone in isolation and they'd never guess that they were released in 2020; only strong modern production tells us that they belong in the 21st century. But it's a great reminder that, however often musicians look backward, music moves on when they do that and combine sounds and this album connected quite a few dots for me. Surprisingly recommended!

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