It comes as no real surprise to learn, from Hanin Elias, that the Digital Hardcore Recordings stable is — like so many previous organizations espousing radical politics — just another boys’ club. And in response to that state of affairs, Atari Teenage Riot’s anarchist cheerleader has set up Fatal, a woman-centered subsidiary of Digital Hardcore through which In Flames is released.
With Atari Teenage Riot, Elias is part of one of the only outfits around still making good on punk’s original threat to destroy popular music and its attendant, nefarious ideologies. While the oppositional message of their lyrics speaks for itself, the most compelling aspect of ATR is, of course, their sound, which moves the political from the cerebral to the visceral level. Live or on record — albeit turned up very loud — ATR’s revolutionary energy comes through at a gut level as they provide the aural equivalent of being run over by a large truck — repeatedly.
Although Hanin Elias has been a principle architect of that fuck-off aesthetic alongside Alec Empire, Nic Endo and Carl Crack, and while In Flames won’t be filed under “soft hits,” this record doesn’t simply reconstruct ATR’s first-one-to-let-go-of-the-hand-grenade-is-a-sissy sound. ATR’s sonic terrorism sticks largely to the same formula from track to track, but Elias displays a broader range of ideas and — although it might seem improbable for an artist on Digital Hardcore — an element of subtlety too.
Outrage at the usual suspects (sexism, fascism and capitalism) is no less central to the equation here, despite more diverse formats that show that Elias isn’t afraid to try out new sonic configurations. The drum’n’bass mutations of “Show”; the minimal ambience of “Sirens”; the warped trip-hop/jungle of “You Will Never Get Me”; the industrial riot-grrrl beats of “Girl Serial Killer”; and the retro-futurist, spooky synth of the title track are a few examples of the refreshing breadth and depth of In Flames. Another indication of the album’s scope is that it manages to incorporate samples of both Joy Division’s “Disorder” and Bach’s “Air on the G String.”
Elias’s vocal performance is no less varied, ranging from a whisper (“Sirens”) to an in-your-face scream (“Onetwo”) via hints of Billie Holiday at her most dissolute (“You Will Never Get Me”).
Against the grain of current trends, even the remixes that round off In Flames prove to be far from filler material — most notably Nic Endo’s reworking of “Slaves,” stripped of its beats, and Kathleen Hanna and Johanna Fateman’s lo-fi rock rendering of “Girl Serial Killer.” On top of that, there’s even a video of “In Flames” bundled on the CD.
Lest you think I’m saying here that Hanin Elias’s solo project fails to sustain the intensity of ATR’s full frontal assault, have no fear. Don’t worry, be fucking angry — there’s still a riot going on. It just seems a little more intelligent and inventive with Elias leading the charge.