Planetary Assault Systems, The Messenger

[Ostgut Ton]


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Aside from the occasional reissue campaign, dance music artists are not known for spending much time with their back catalogs. Whether you chalk this up a mercurial, fashion-conscious culture or most producers’ tendency to release and move on, many artists tend to identify with their past only as part of their CV (or legacy in the case of careerists). Ever the iconoclast, Luke Slater admitted to bucking that trend when writing the fifth Planetary Assault Systems album. “I looked back to The Drone Sector for inspiration,” he told Richard Brophy, continuing, “I love that LP and I feel that it gets overlooked… it almost felt as if I hadn’t written it.” Given the fathomless depths of his oeuvre under a dozen aliases it’s little surprise Slater feels somewhat detached from the 1997 album. But it’s quite striking to think the second PAS LP was a touchstone for the newest more than a decade later. This goes a long way in explaining why The Messenger finds Planetary Assault Systems pulling back on the throttle after the all-out blitzkrieg that was 2009’s Temporary Suspension.

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Despite its stated reference point, The Messenger has just as much in common with all previous PAS albums except Temporary Suspension, mixing beatless experiments and mid-tempo techno pieces with more rigorous cuts. But even by those standards it’s a measured, heady record — more akin to a psychological thriller than an explosive sci-fi blockbuster. Its ominous atmosphere is one notable holdover from Temporary Suspension, fomenting pits of dread in listeners’ stomachs with an assortment of unearthly drones and queasy chord sequences while Slater’s usually ferocious drums play supporting roles. After the pleasant tone bath of “Railer (Further Exploration),” The Messenger reveals its true colors on “Beauty In the Fear,” a jaw-clenching crawl through a cavernous passage lined with snarling synthetic creatures. “Human Like Us” is the direct descendant of The Drone Sector‘s “Dungeon,” its familiar, sickly sweet bell patterns bearing light percussive touches as an abused guitar chord fumbles below. Slater intensifies this approach on “Bell Blocker,” which sounds like a distant, coal-fired locomotive warning those ahead with the clang of cowbells and high pitched whines.

An album this intent on unsettling its audience would be a tough sell if not for its largely assiduous sequencing. From its humble opening The Messenger gets more menacing both in tone and the physicality of its percussion with almost every track — the drifting “Movement 12” being the notable exception. But even when it’s churning bones into butter on “Call From The East” or cranking out eerie electric piano progressions on “Kray Squid,” there’s a modicum of restraint to keep you guessing when the metaphorical hammer will fall. That moment finally arrives on the ninth track, “Rip The Cut,” unleashing all the pent-up tension with torrents of overdriven, syncopated drum triplets. Unfortunately the album loses steam and appeal when it doesn’t maintain that intensity in the last three tracks. There’s a sense the sub-aquatic squelch of “Motif” and paint-PAS-by-numbers “Cold Bolster” would’ve felt less lackluster placed earlier in the order. That said, the machine funk of “Black Tea” is an effective closer, thrumming with nervous energy before disintegrating in squalls of white noise.

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The inherent risk of Slater reconnecting with his earlier releases to create new work is that listeners can justifiably claim The Messenger is merely a lateral move for Planetary Assault Systems. Yet that doesn’t make his choice to scale back the aggression and require more careful listening any less brave, knowing that doing so could alienate fans who only just cottoned on with Temporary Suspension. It also can’t take away from the richness of Slater’s sound design, which is meticulous enough to fully sell his haunting vision without resorting to brutality and far more intensely detailed than any PAS material before it. To this end his choice of inspiration proves fruitful, allowing Slater to refine his well established sound while keeping his fans checking behind their curtains for lurkers. Message received.

petesrdic  on December 3, 2011 at 3:44 AM

Without a doubt, one of the top 3 strongest techno albums of the year. Seriously good stuff from the doyen of techno. Nice one Mr Slater. This will be long considered a classic, seminal album.

Ctrls  on December 8, 2011 at 2:15 PM

very nice review, pretty much agree. but there are no triplets in rip the cut, get your theory straight ;).

Anton  on December 8, 2011 at 2:40 PM

Really seems like they’re triplets, it’s just the accent on the third hit that makes it feel like something else.

Sam  on December 9, 2011 at 4:12 PM

Ctrls is right. Definitely not triplets.

Anton  on December 9, 2011 at 4:14 PM

OK naysayers, then what are they?

Trackbacks

Planetary Assault Systems – The Messenger [Ostgut Ton] « Behind Tesserac means . . .  on December 10, 2011 at 4:58 PM

[…]    Luke Slater admitted to bucking that trend when writing the fifth Planetary Assault Systems album. “I looked back to The Drone Sector for inspiration,” he told Richard Brophy, continuing, “I love that LP and I feel that it gets overlooked… it almost felt as if I hadn’t written it.” Given the fathomless depths of his oeuvre under a dozen aliases it’s little surprise Slater feels somewhat detached from the 1997 album. But it’s quite striking to think the second PAS LP was a touchstone for the newest more than a decade later. This goes a long way in explaining why The Messenger finds Planetary Assault Systems pulling back on the throttle after the all-out blitzkrieg that was 2009′s Temporary Suspension. [… more] […]

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