Nearly four years after their previous outing, California Noir: Nightlife in Neon, Julien-K are back with their fifth studio album, Harmonic Disruptor. After a successful Indiegogo campaign that saw the funding goal for the record being reached within the first 30 minutes of it going live, it’s been a gruelling two year wait. As the old saying goes, good things come to those that wait.
The first thing that stands out about Harmonic Disruptor is how heavy it sounds. Granted, the Californian-based ensemble are no strangers to heavy music, yet this is definitely the most raw and gritty they have sounded since their days in industrial rock outfit, Orgy. Ryan Shuck (vocals) and Amir Derakh (guitar) may have left their previous endeavour behind, but that hasn’t stopped them from exploring their roots once again. This is an underlining theme for the record, which doesn’t just encapsulate their own genesis, but also feels like highlights from the alternative scene’s heyday. In typical Julien-K fashion, this isn’t just a mere rip of this era, it’s been coated with a modern flair, being showcased front-and-centre for the modern generation.
Commencing with familiar territory, title track “Harmonic Disruptor” brings the record to life. The adrenaline burst hits in an instant, as a flurry of synths lead straight into gritty riffage. Heavy hitting, the song captures sensibilities of old-school and modern industrial rock in equal measure. This was definitely the perfect choice as lead single, as well as it’s placement at the start of the album, serving as prelude of what’s to come, and being an excellent first impression. It could be easy to mistake “Cross” for an Audioslave track on first listen. There are hooks that echo the signature feel of massive stadium rock songs. However, a subtle 80’s gothic tone creeps in the background, becoming more prominent later on. In some ways, it feels extremely similar to material from 2012’s We’re Here With You. The dark, sinister electro melody of “Stronger Without you” then kicks in, and it becomes hypnotic. This masterfully transitions to an explosive barrage of distorted heaviness, complimenting the main refrain perfectly. “Lies Like Fire”, on the other hand, feels like a blast from the past. As stated previously, there are hints of their previous work with Orgy throughout the record, and it’s here where it resonates the strongest. From the wall of bulky guitars, to the twisted, malformed electronic melodies and the edgy atmosphere, it’s a track that wouldn’t feel out of place on 2004’s Punk Statik Paranoia.
If Terminator crossed paths with Ministry, this would be the result. [“Shut Down Your Soul”]
“Shut Down Your Soul” is delivered with a raw ferocity, being industrial metal in it’s purest form. If the opening machine-like soundscape wasn’t enough, everything is turned up to 11 upon savage guitar work and a pounding drumbeat being introduced. It’s unrelenting at times, reaching ear-shattering levels. If Terminator crossed paths with Ministry, this would be the result. The pulsing electronic tones of “As The Sirens Call” capture a foreboding, gritty atmosphere, the drumbeat giving off an almost tribal mood. Guitars seamlessly roar in, leading to hooks that are catchy as hell, injecting a burst of energy. The track shifts between these two states, creating interesting textures, which allows the track to evolve in captivating ways throughout it’s runtime. Spooky ambience that feels ripped from straight out of a horror flick, alongside creepy sampling, signal the start of “Burn The System”. With a quick build-up, it transforms into psychedelic electro industrial rock. The hooks here are to die for, being some of the slickest on the record, and with a chorus section that has anthemic qualities, this track feels unstoppable. Wanting to finish with a bang, they seem to have saved the best for last with “Undo Everything”. A hard, pounding electro beat, and the layers of mechanical sounds surrounding it, are enough to envelop listeners into it’s atmosphere. The melodies are absolutely addicting, making this one a must-play at alternative club nights (whenever those are allowed to happen again, of course.) There are some hints that give this a slightly 80’s twist at times, like an unholy meshing of EBM and glam. This makes for a truly grand finale.
Harmonic Disruptor is a triumph. The record not only has an incredible range of influences that span the spectrum of the alternative music scene, it’s also one that retains an incredible consistency. It’s a return to form for Julien-K. That’s not to say their more recent output has been bad, but I feel that releases after their debut played it a bit too safe, sticking to a formula, rather than making room for experimentation. The band are at their very best when they gather a broad range of ideas and concepts, then throw them together in interesting ways. The thing is, these don’t just stick when they do this – they’re developed and crafted in a way that makes them gel together harmoniously, resulting in captivating experiences. That is exactly what we’ve got here.
I’d go as far to say that this is Julien-K’s finest work since 2010’s Death To Analog. In fact, considering the overall presentation and it’s genre-traversing nature, it could be argued that Harmonic Disruptor is the heavier successor to it. However, whilst there are definite parallels, this album doesn’t live in the shadow of it’s predecessor. It’s a strong enough to stand it’s own ground, capturing a different essence, whilst retaining an energetic presence throughout. That deal is only sweetened by it’s nostalgic undertones, and it never presents this is a pandering way either – it serves to enrich the experience, genuinely pushing their sound forward. To put it simply, it’s a blast from start to finish! This is not only one of my favourite albums of the year so far, it’s also one of the best alternative records I’ve had the pleasure of listening to in recent memory.
Final Verdict: Highly experimental, the record becomes a genre-traversing journey of the highest calibre, maintaining consistency and energy throughout. Harmonic Disruptor is Julien-K at their very best, being an alternative masterpiece. One of the finest records of the year, and in recent memory.