On her first listen to Alien Sex Fiend, my friend describes their sound as “some bloke shouting random stuff over basic beats”; the only counterargument I can muster is “it’s not random”. She could have been describing much of modern pop but this is a very specific sort of music. Nik Fiend’s cold and calculated pronouncements are carefully chosen to increase the tension of the music.
Every song is a soundtrack that scores a series of montage vignettes in the mind of the listener. The storytelling is unconventional. There’s no beginning, middle, or end, just another expressionist burst of grainy, monochromatic horror, shot through a lens of paranoia. The claustrophobic production is stifling. The oppressive atmosphere of the spartan beats, and the eerie synths, along with the last recordings of the late guitarist, Simon “Doc” Milton, still sound transgressive after more than three decades on the go. With popular music growing ever more safe and conservative, it is refreshing to hear something so deliberately unsettling, provocative and repulsive.
With that said, the last few years have seen Sleaford Mods and Idles breaking through to the mainstream. Both bands share a vocal style and a musical aesthetic with ASF so, arguably, there hasn’t been a better time for new material from the band since the heyday of Nine Inch Nails, Danzig and Ministry in the mid ‘90s, all of whom were indebted to the Londoners. Listen to Idles’ ‘Divide And Conquer’ and it could have been written by the Fiends.
After releasing their last three albums themselves, ASF are back in their spiritual home of Cherry Red Records; the label they started out with back in 1983. ASF, and indeed the entire industrial/noise cohort, are indebted to the foundational works of Throbbing Gristle and Cabaret Voltaire. Current single ‘Shit’s Coming Down’ also tips its hat to fellow Londoners Coil, while ‘Carcass’ is built around a collage of discordant distortion from Milton. The 11 minute, ‘It’s In My Blood’, is an undulating gothic industrial version of ‘Whole Lotta Love’, complete with the extended breakdown and thunderous climax. It’s a shock to the ears when ‘Ghost In The Machine’ comes along with a recognisable song structure, danceable beats and ‘60s psychedelic guitar riffs a la Roky Erickson. They drag it out for eight minutes, lest they be accused of compromise.
After a very strong opening, things start to drag and grate a bit in the second half. ‘Gotta Get Back’ and ‘Invisible’ slip by without grabbing the attention but ‘Neutron’ is another matter. Like Radiohead, before they completely disappeared up each others holes, this is a slow-building analogue/digital hybrid that is atmospheric and melodic, without appearing to do very much at all. The short coda/reprise, ‘Bloody Reprisal’, closes out a fascinating album that is as frustrating in parts as it is brilliant in others. With an ambivalent mix of elation and alienation throughout Possessed, I’d say that’s Mission Accomplished for Mr. and Mrs. Fiend.
Possessed is available from Cherry Red Records here.