As evident from many of my reviews at the time, I was (and remain) a big fan of the noise to EBM pipeline of genre overlap that was popular a few years back. Representing my two most momentous musical preferences during high school, hearing the two alongside each other was a perfect paring. Choke Chain, the solo project of Milwaukee's Mark Trueman is keeping this tradition alive, with a new album that leans more towards the rhythmic, rather than harsh end of this spectrum. Synth heavy, yet with aggressive vocals and production, it makes for an appropriate, fully realized album.
Mortality is the first full length from Trueman's project, following a handful of EPs and stray songs. Fittingly, it is the most definitive refinement of his approach to date. The components are consistent from what came before: pummeling drum machines; grimy/aggressive FM bass synths; and simultaneously angry/pained screaming vocals. The aforementioned noise influence is more notable on the unconventional production and the aggressive vocals that could almost be lifted from a power electronics record. The overall feel/aesthetic leans more in to the black and white austerity of the noise world, as opposed to the more cliché goth industrial world.
One of the most notable developments compared to previous works is Trueman's growth as a composer and songwriter. The earlier tapes used a similar sonic palette as here, and I can't help but love the bass sound he uses most consistently: a metallic digital clang that is somewhere between an early Front Line Assembly record and late '80s-early '90s arcade video games. But here he has developed beyond that. Something like "Burial" has that same intensity as his earlier tapes, but more nuanced mixing and effects, as well as a cautious use of melody bring it beyond just a bunch of great sounds into a catchy, memorable song. "Darkness" ups the lush synth pads a bit higher in the mix, and the higher pitched synth sequences and perfect snare sound coagulate perfectly. For "Despair (Misery Mix)," he adds in some synth patterns right out of John Carpenter & Alan Howath's legendary Halloween 3 soundtrack, and even a tasteful use of handclaps to further flesh out the rapidfire bass and distorted drum programming. Closer "Mortality" also shines in resplendent darkness via excellent production and sound design, as well as a overall more unique song structure.
Without focusing on too much nostalgia, the Choke Chain sound is one that exhibits features of my favorite period in the EBM/Industrial continuum: complex layering aided by the rigidity of MIDI sequencing, digital effects that warp the sound in unexpected ways, and tasteful, non-plagiaristic uses of sampling. That late 1980s through early 1990s approach was where I first jumped into the genre, so anything that feels like a throwback to that era is going to resonate effortlessly with me. With those rudimentary components, and Trueman's distinctive vocals and production, Mortality is one of those albums that just hits all of the right buttons with me and is a favorite of 2023 thus far.