Throughout my reviews, I have often challenged myself to tackle different approaches to each album I review. I want to introduce you all to new artists that will challenge you, that might put you in the seat of that artist or take you somewhere. This year has had a lot of rough moments, and a lot of music has been made in an attempt to personify the moment, both outside and inside of the circles Pop Art’s artists are in. I think about this and how I have wanted to have the chance to review an Electro Industrial or EBM record. With that in mind, we dive headfirst into the tenth album from Angelspit, “Diesel Priest”.
You would think heading towards 10 albums into an artist’s career would require a massive evolution or result in said discography becoming rather stale. However, none of these things have applied to the Australian Electro-Industrial project led by Zoog Von Rock, Angelspit. They have cruised along with their brand of dancefloor dystopia, meshing EBM synths with Ministry-ready guitars and a knack for updating their synth palette to the current times. This is all topped by Zoog’s own brand of unapologetic lyricism that brings a cyberpunk politic in anti-authoritarianism, both in government and technology.
While I first heard of them through a tweet of Zoog grooving in his studio to the album’s single “Don’t Know Zero”, a quick dive through the rest of their discography has shown a very consistent listen throughout. Sure, sometimes the records come off as a little dated, but so would every EBM and Industrial release at the time. Whereas many of these records in these fields suffer from thin synths, muddy guitars, or flat composition, Angelspit never had any of these issues for the most part. So, with a strong single, a solid back catalog, and a set of solid previews leading up to the release, what did we get with “Diesel Priest”?
Well, while this is certainly a highlight among Angelspit’s catalog, perhaps the more accurate story is this one being the most unapologetic. This certainly is not new in the Angelspit wheelhouse, but it is most apparent here that Zoog has had enough. On top of the political chaos in the past year that reinforced Angelspit’s messages more than ever, this record feels not just like another solid addition to a legacy, but a necessary companion to surviving this current era. This is not as much a departure from Angelspit’s career as it is a departure of the moment from being a reminder of issues in peace to being the sound of an alarm that will continue to ring.
However, if there is one interesting shift in this record, it certainly is in the production. Guitars are almost completely non-existent on this record, leaving for Angelspit’s collage of synths to fill the record. This practically makes it a Zoog Von Rock solo record, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Most of the synths still fit into the usual course of Angelspit, but a fun choice of leads throughout the album really make them stand out. Highlights include “Don’t Know Zero” bringing 303s and hoovers for a classic acid sound, the Dubstep-esque warping bass of “What Ever Happened to Uncle Sam?”, and the clashing of the pluck and muted synth in “Come Into the Creep”. The drums and bass are relentless as well, not letting a single beat keep you from either dancing or moshing. Angelspit’s Twitter was filled with album previews of Zoog grooving in the studio in a wall of machinery, and it’s very apparent with how much fun this record has with itself.
While the real instruments are used sparingly, the moments and methods in which they do come in are very much welcome. “Don’t Know Zero” brings guitars in as an additional layer to give the production an edge, whereas “Diesel Priest” puts them front and center and “Prefab War” ties them in as a call-and-response in the hook with the synths. A slap bass, which I assume to be a plugin, comes to life and brings all sorts of energy not just into “Diesel Priest” with the layering in the bass, but also some hits in “Come into the Creep” adding a further groove to the track and the opener “Edge of Ruin” making it the centerfold. It’s consistently hard hitting, and on “Edge of Ruin” it is very jaunty and adds a lot of tension to Zoog’s declaration of the American failures.
It is at this point of the review where we must address the lyrics, and at this point it is almost unavoidable. A fair amount of Industrial and EBM lyrics, particularly in this heavier sector, are to some degree a declaration of anti-authoritarianism, the very sound of a rebellion to the clanking dystopian machinery that the sound personifies. Angelspit are a very unapologetic brand of this, as mentioned earlier, and they have applied it to the modern day. For those more familiar with Run the Jewels or Rage Against the Machine, you have the general idea. Track after track drops line after line of relentless revelations, delivered with either a sarcastic edge and dark humor or a razor edge that cuts the soul of even the most whimsical of individuals.
On the one side, “Edge of Ruin” starts the album with a verse that starts with a verse that starts by declaring “You misunderstood your government/When they said you are "free"/They meant you got no value/Just a throw away commodity” and ends with declaring America as “the greatest failed social experiment”. This concept is further expanded upon with “What Ever Happened to Uncle Sam?”, only made more alarming with the gruesome metaphorical image of the militia of the rich killing their own families to provide for their lifestyle. On the other, “Don’t Know Zero” mocks the rich who attempt to act like they are the “rebels” while they continue to grift off of those who fall for their nonsense. The third verse with lines like “This perfect relationship wants someone to hate, and you love the resentment” is the lyrical highlight of this entire album and is worth tuning into alone. My rating for the single previous before was based on the entire maxi, but this track itself is a gold mine, one of this year’s highlights for sure. The tearing down of the corruption of war and colonialism is almost stable with “Prefab War”, and “Come Into the Creep” tears down social media and the way it enables the system with lines like “I got me a phone, now I am the media”. The latter ties it all together in a third verse with criminal justice, signaling on the way the system the first two verses describes puts whistleblowers in danger.
The massive nature of both these lyrics and productions makes the tracks where it is a lot more subtle rather underwhelming. While “Killed On Camera” pulls this off with the energy picking up in the hook and the verses having more aggression, a tight calculated performance that makes for a vocal highlight, but I feel like I can expect a lot more from Angelspit than the basic synths and vocals of “Hand of God” that never really develop to a bigger climax. “Upside Down Devil” has a lot of strong lyrical content focusing on the deaths in events like the pandemic being funneled by corporate greed, but it is missing something to make that hook really move in the same way “Stand in Line”, “Diesel Priest”, or “Prefab War” lands. The instrumental track “Transition” really highlights this issue even further, as it manages to correct this issue with the synths continuing to build and build up to a set of impacts throughout that really connect the vibe with the listener. It brings the dystopian imagery of the lyrics without even needing to say a single word, and that is what the production should be doing throughout and does on the best tracks.
However, what also helps these tracks up are the fantastic vocal performances. Zoog’s voice channels a lot of Al Jourgensen, but manages to hold a tighter melody and energy throughout. This really comes in the more punk-styled vocals of “Diesel Priest”, matching the energy of the instrumental, but “Edge of Ruin” is equally as powerful in its delivery. “Don’t Know Zero” and “Come into the Creep” are the highlights among tracks with a more subtle delivery in the initial opening lines as it builds up throughout. “Don’t Know Zero” further assists this with vocals from Miss Ballistic, which further emphasize the chaotic approach, especially on the highlighted third verse where she takes the lead. Speaking of guest appearances, May May Graves does a solid job with her contributions to “All Hail the Hustle”, but while Gasoline Invertebrate contributes a great set of vocals to “Edge of Ruin”, the effects he lays on his voice for “Prefab War”, don’t do as much for me as the lyrics and production. The conviction still makes it land, however, and it is easier to ignore in a less quiet setting.
Overall, though, in spite of a few moments here and there, this is certainly another great addition to Angelspit’s discography. The tackling of 2021’s worst moments, the end result of the world we have created, and the way it is personified not just by the vocals and lyrics but its music, is a very complete image. A decent 8 out of 10 and a definite recommendation. It’s fantastic knowing Angelspit can fund a release for an album like this through something like Kickstarter and release it independently with the unapologetic content they wish, but it’s unfortunate to know that as soon as many will pass it, they will all continue to stand in line once again.
Best Tracks: “Don’t Know Zero”, “Come into the Creep”, “Edge of Ruin”, “Diesel Priest”
Worst: “Hand of God”