The title of Scottish producer Benjamin John Power’s fourth album as Blanck Mass, Animated Violence Mild, isn’t merely poetic word salad. If you’ve visited an arcade since the early 1990s, the phrase might be familiar from the American Amusement Machine Association’s rating system. The classification is meant to cover games that feature “violent elements that do not result in bloodshed, serious injury and/or death.” The notion of man-made, non-lethal violence finds new meaning on Powers’ most ambitious album yet. “I believe that many of us have willfully allowed our survival instinct to become engulfed by the snake [of consumerism] we birthed,” he writes in a statement accompanying his new record, identifying a kind of virtual violence against our collective interests, one which has been normalized in part by our own compliance.
This sinister current that flows beneath even our lives’ most routine interactions is thrust to the surface and cast in serrated chrome on Animated Violence Mild. The album’s title could double as a tongue-in-cheek rating for the contents therein: These are easily the most aggressive, full-throated songs Power has yet written in his nine-year solo career. Gone are the languid ambient pieces of his self-titled debut album and the overt pop inclinations of Dumb Flesh. Even the teeth bared on his previous full-length, 2017’s striking World Eater, now seem tame by comparison. Nearly every one of these eight tracks channels head-banging abandon in one form or another, with any lingering melodic sentimentality transformed into blinding chemiluminescence.
From the beginning, it’s obvious Power has no qualms prominently displaying his influences, which serves to highlight his omnivorous appetite. Tuneful industrial music of the 1980s and ’90s courses through the churning onslaught of opener “Death Drop” and rarely fades until monumental closer “Wings of Hate.” With its punchy groove and catchy synth lines, “No Dice” evokes the cadence of Nine Inch Nails’ “Terrible Lie” while entirely circumventing the classic with its opulent, sensuous arrangement. And no doubt Trent Reznor would be both proud and envious to hear how “Love Is a Parasite” repurposes The Downward Spiral’s seething energy and earworm riffs for its own apocalyptic design. Power also taps into black metal through scorched screams and electronic blast beats, nods to trap in his slower grooves, borrows the rapidfire samples of footwork, and wraps it all in ecstatic trance synths. But his stylistic combinations are so distinct and well executed that they effortlessly transcend any recognizable source material.
Two of Animated Violence Mild’s biggest standouts, “Death Drop” and “House vs. House,” kick off the record with the kind of instant momentum often reserved for punk records and hard techno DJs. It’s an overwhelming 15-minute stretch that showcases in brilliant detail all of what Blanck Mass has come to embody: bold experimentation, rhythmic intensity, explosive melody, and artful ferocity. “Hush Money” continues the thread with slightly less satisfying results. Perhaps because the halogen-bright dance tune follows two of Power’s best productions, or because it relies on a more linear and familiar structure, it’s the album’s sole dip in ingenuity. That actually says a lot about the quality of Animated Violence Mild: A track that might seem strong in another context can’t quite reach the high water mark set by everything around it.
Animated Violence Mild’s greatest success goes beyond how it manifests the intangibles of humanity’s self-automated undoing, or how it casts a melting pot of influences into singular shapes. Since Power debuted his Blanck Mass moniker in 2011, each record has been held in contrast to Fuck Buttons, his longtime duo with Andrew Hung, and rightly so. The wide scope and stratospheric heights of that group’s best work leave an indelible impression, and Power’s solo work has by turns subverted or indulged the same tendencies. For this album’s final track he seems to do both. “Wings of Hate” is dragon-sized and full of fire, hurtling towards the sun with a raw fury unmatched by Power’s other music. It’s the last in a spectacular series of definitive salvos. If previous Blanck Mass albums were each a step out from the shadow of Fuck Buttons, Animated Violence Mild shows that he’s outgrown the comparison altogether.
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