Army of the Universe are a Drum & Bass duo made up of a couple of guys who call themselves Trebla and Lord K. Their sound is the kind of Electronic Industrial Rock that has proven to be the music of choice for the disaffected European youth. Their sound combines the gritty, dirty, digital sleaze of Trent Reznor with the more Jungle-like club beats of Pendulum. Both of those bands became phenomenon’s in their fields, breaking out of the underground scenes and infecting the squeaky clean world of mainstream pop with the grimy sludge of raw, thought provoking music.
So, Army of the Universe has lined itself up with the giants of their chosen genres; and while the comparisons don’t always serve them well, the unquestionable ambition of this album does have it’s moments of awe.
Many of their tracks begin with a single, solitary sound, a tiny repetitive loop that serves as the framework for the rest of the track to be built around. From these small beginnings the tracks don’t so much grow as evolve, starting out as one thing and becoming something else entirely. In most cases such as the title track, it works.The song begins with a sound akin to a steady stream of rain falling on steel drums and then casts a heavy dose of static interference and distorted guitars to create the kind of no nonsense, arrogant rock that you would get from a Beat ’em Up machine in a 90’s arcade.
Occasionally though they start so strongly that the surrounding music often becomes a devolution, a breaking of the promise made by the opening bars. “Cold in Heaven” is one such track. It begins with an uncharacteristic riff, stung out on a cheap sounding guitar. It whispers the promise of a stripped down melody, one that goes back into the basics and purities of instrumental music; so it’s almost a shame when the electronic drum beat begins and spoils the tranquillity.
Army of the Universe are at their best when they do two things well. Sleaze and rock. Although the rock side of the album never truly makes good on the promise of the opening track, when they go for it they have a confidence and a swagger that takes the I-Don’t-Give-A-Fuck-Attitude of the 80’s party scene and combines it with the integrity of early 90’s alternative.
However, they are at their worst when they lose the latter half of that combination. The sleaze is always there but when the integrity is missing and their more indulgent tendencies kick in, the album has some cringe worthy moments that taint its appeal. Fake evil laughter, attempted seduction and that most cardinal of sins, mentioning their own name, all show up to compromise the genuine quality they showcase, sometimes on the same track.
It isn’t helped by a serious case of Eurovision Vocals. I know it’s better for marketing purposes to sing in English but wouldn’t it be better for artists to sing in the language their accent would feel more comfortable in? When you sing cheesy lines like the ones in “Table in Hell” they sound downright embarrassing sung in English with a European accent
Army of the Universe are a good band. But for them to be a great one they need to rein it in. They need to know when they have a good thing going and resist the urge to take the step from ambition to indulgence.