Phase Fatale - Scanning Backwards

  • If you can't make it to Berghain this weekend, this techno/EBM album might be the next best thing.
  • Share
  • In making his second album, Hayden Payne, AKA the US techno, EBM and industrial artist Phase Fatale, asked himself some pretty juicy questions. Perhaps most juicily, he considered: could Berghain, the club where he's a resident DJ, be an instrument? Not content with that one, he explored links between sound deployed as a weapon, as in military contexts (a topic investigated by Kode9), and the way music is used for "psychological manipulation" on a dance floor. He examined in particular how this is manifested in queer and fetish settings, with sounds used to engender ritual or programmed behaviours. The album's cover is based on an old flyer from SNAX, Berghain's gay fetish event series, and appears to depict a scan of an anal cavity. Hearing Scanning Backwards makes it clear the artist used these themes to fuel the production process, rather than present work with an obvious commentary. But what is discernible relates to Payne's statement that "All tracks on the album, no matter the style, were tailored to sound a certain way in Berghain." Here's a quick exercise. Listen back to "Spoken Ashes," a standout cut from Redeemer, the last Phase Fatale album, and compare it to "Binding By Oath," the lead track from this new one. Both exemplify the modern brand of techno, EBM and industrial Payne has been building for the past five or so years, but the production style is noticeably different. Payne, who has a background in sound engineering, seems to be saying that the Berghain system responds powerfully when certain midrange frequencies are removed, others are emphasised, and the snare drums slam the mix. This isn't just a nerdy footnote. The production values give Scanning Backwards a distinct vibe and character, the feeling that, accurately or not, the album was made not on a computer, as before, but on old machines. In most ways, the main elements of Payne's music remain in place. He recommits to a churning, grubby, club-ready sound that tips its hat to '80s and '90s EBM and industrial. But the production approach gives things a fresh sense of energy, even if, at a glance, the record sounds like it was made 30 years ago. We get examples of the basic template in "Velvet Imprints," "Binding By Oath" and "Mass Deception," where broken kick patterns and undulating synth lines give the sense of driving through a crumbling, graffiti-smeared tunnel in some edgy '80s film. Like these tracks, "De-patterning" grinds at about 120 BPM. There's a feeling of perpetual, wavy motion in its synth parts, an effect Payne also achieves with the frequent use of drones. If it's possible, Scanning Backwards sounds both mechanical and liquid-like. The white-hot snares and repetition of dank moods might test some listeners, but Payne takes some welcome diversions across the eight tracks. The best of these is "During The Freezing Process," which feeds his sound a couple quaaludes. This isn't just a gimmick for the sake of variety. 80 BPM proves to be an ideal tempo to revel in the style's uncleanliness. "Proxy Contact" is in the experimental spirit of early industrial, a warped three minutes of sinister voice, stereo manipulation and noise. The closer, "Splintered Heels," is the record's most dramatic moment, as Payne slowly reveals his hand by rousing a rhino-like arpeggio. Where most tracks here stay within a dynamic range that's defined early on, "Splintered Heels" soars freely, as Payne increases the velocity by a couple notches to bring things home. It's arguable that novel expressions like these are too few on the album, particularly when you consider that Payne is basically an EBM and industrial lifer, meaning he's the sort of artist who knows the rules well enough to break them. But if Scanning Backwards' primary concern was power in production, it's impressively achieved its mission. The release party for the album at Berghain should only confirm this.
  • Tracklist
      01. Velvet Imprints 02. Binding By Oath 03. Polystyrene 04. During The Freezing Process 05. Mass Deception 06. Proxy Contact 07. De-patterning 08. Splintered Heels