Combichrist – One Fire (2019)

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Combichrist are based in Atlanta, Georgia. Andy LaPlegua is the founding member and songwriter. His confronting lyrics, which pull no punches, often resonate with listeners, if not make them uncomfortable and unsettled on occasion. “One Fire” is no exception across its 13 tracks and 51 minutes in duration.

“Intro” is rife with undertones of the unsettling and it is quite threatening about what is to come. It is chock full of complex samples of speech and sirens, bleeding seamlessly into the next track, “Hate Like Me”. This track is like a conversation that a person is having with themselves, between the mad and the less mad. The lyrics seem a little silly at times, but this is intentional, adding to the dementia. The track is electro in nature and this is used often during the album. It alternates from pared back to driving in nature. I really enjoyed the oft repeated lyric of, “What happened to you? You used to hate like me.” The track stops abruptly, catching the listener unawares.

“Broken United” starts with whispers that float barely above the insanity implied by the pulsating backdrop. It’s complex and urgent and compels the listener to “put your fists up, if you are broken”. It is multi-layered and shifts gears often, with left-right balance used occasionally to great effect. At one point, piano shines out and when paired with a change of vocals, it grabs the attention of the listener. The social conscience of the track is a hallmark.

“Guns at Last Dawn” has a heartbeat-like opening and the electro that appears reminded me of insects. It is an aggressive track that soon becomes fast and furious. Changes in tempo keep the listener engaged and the use of a piano and calm vocals are great counterpoints.

“Lobotomy” is a track about drinking alcohol to ease the impacts of mental health and the effects that this has on the person and those around them. The electro feel is prevalent again and the use of percussion and vocals expertly suggest voices in your head.

“One Fire” is a robust offering, which jerks you back to the moment from the more reserved nature of the previous track. Andy’s vocal range is on display here and the tag teaming, repetitive structure of the synths and effects builds remarkable intensity.

“Bottle of Pain” features a dramatic opening, with somewhat discordant acoustic guitar. The organic lumbering of the orchestra through the track adds a sense of misery and despair. The themes are devastation and loss and they are in your face. It’s confronting and heart-felt and left me somewhat unsettled – which is the intent.

“2045” has a scratchy sci-fi opening. It is full of sampled audio and has forecasting the future and change as its central tenets. It mixes electro and metal together to create an intriguing result.

“Interlude” is a welcome pause, using clean guitars and honest vocals. The instruments in the background sound like sighs, until without warning, “Understand” leaps forward with its electro driven rhythm and ominous vocals, particularly in the choruses. I really enjoyed the arrangement of this track.

“California uber alles ” is a cover of the Dead Kennedy track. The vocals are obviously different and I got a sense that this is somewhat of a parody. “Last Days Under the Sun” then follows with a heartbeat-like opening. It’s a long track of vocals and sinister samples, as the sound accumulates steadfastly, slipping then into an ambient electro groove. It left me feeling somewhat melancholy.

“The Other” has a scratchy opening and the killer bass line adds some ominous foreshadowing. The track steps things back and the vocals are restrained, with Andy choosing to leave us with on emotional low. The track ends with a jarring electronic sound that adds a sense of finality to the album.

“One Fire” is an album of evolution for Combichrist. It caught me somewhat unawares, as I wasn’t expecting the heavy lean on electro elements.

However, the challenging reflective journey about personal demons, addiction, mental health and isolation, along with cogent metal elements, were no surprise. Andy’s vocal range was impressive and the mixing and arrangements were outstanding.

At times, this album left me unsettled, melancholy, encouraged and challenged. This is the nature of art at its finest.

8/10

Review by Greg Noble

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