Jonathan Ridley’s “secular apocalypse” comes to life on the cover, bursting with color and menace, so beautiful that one can’t look away. Two witnesses, perhaps from the Book of Revelation, stare placidly at the swirl of disjointed appendages. It’s too late to change now; the waiting is all that remains. 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, intones the narrator of “Flarepath”. Is this the final countdown?
Perhaps not. Many television shows begin with a framing technique, leaving characters in peril, then pulling back with a disclaimer: one week earlier. The future forecast by The Looming Machine is not yet here. It can still be averted. But how? Nuclear Whale sees the gap between rich and poor, who view each other across a great divide, and imagines a greater divide at the end of time. Will the answer be awareness or revolution? Can human nature be changed? Will absolute power continue to corrupt absolutely?
Industrial music is the right venue for these feelings, as it allows room for the occasional dialogue sample as well as space for angry beats. Industrial music is the sound of a future that never occurred, a constructed illusion built upon a base of sci-fi samples and imagined tropes: the expression of the robotic at war with the humane. One leans forward to hear the characters’ words. The poor have secrets that the rich cannot fathom.
The Looming Machine may not seem subtle, but the album is more covert than one might imagine, allowing its bleak vision to unfold through rhythm and beat. As strange as it may sound, a clear dance beat is always a sign of hope; thus the misguided (but still relevant) rave scene in The Matrix Reloaded. As long as one can throw inhibitions aside and move to the sound of a drummer, live or programmed, one can also say no to the conventions of society. A looming machine holds threads in tension so that they can be woven into something meaningful; a drum machine allows melodies to unfold and minds to stretch. The 11-minute “Venal” first creates a trance, then shatters it at 5:13 with an over-miked blast. As the blast repeats, it creates a new trance, at a higher level.
The album grows darker as it progresses. Police radios sound on “Wikus”, leading to a fracus of fractured beats. “Fat Man and Little Boy” and “Ash in the Sky” recall the horrors of WWII. Those who don’t know history are destined to repeat it. By the end of “Ash”, not a soul is dancing. But “Chrysalis” revives the beat with a vengeance, spinning nearly out of control. The album ends in hope, having laid the groundwork for a possible future. As long as the apocalypse continues in a holding pattern, there’s still a chance for humanity to find its way. (Richard Allen)