In 1992 Atari Teenage Riot exploded onto the Berlin rave scene, bringing a punk attitude and anarchist/anti-fascist message into a techno landscape that had focused on partying and having a good time in the recently reunified Germany. Over the next six years they released 3 classic albums, invented and established Digital Hardcore as its own movement, and then split to go their separate ways due rather than conquer the planet like they were on the cusp of doing.
12 years after their last album release Alec Empire, Nic Endo, and new guy CD Kidronik are back with Is Hyperreal?, missing Hanin Elias, now working on other projects, and the departed Carl Crack, posthumously appearing on one track that was recorded before his 2003 death, and aiming to re-bottle the lightening that made them one of the most exciting acts of the 90's. Can they do it? Well, not especially.
The album starts well enough with the grinding intro to Activate setting the scene before the traditional Alec Empire shouts kick off before breaking into a guitar and techno whirlwind, but it doesn't have the bite of the old stuff and lacks that touch of noise terror that made all their old stuff often an exciting challenge to listen to. Blood In My Eyes is also start in a more sedate musical affair than previous albums, however it has to be one of the most personal songs they have ever written and the subject matter (human trafficking) allows for a change in tempo so it will still go down as a classic.
However when you get to the track Black Flags the track is at a steady walking pace, complete with slow, almost plodding rapping and throwaway political comments, and the title track Is This Hyperreal? is a quite dull soundscape that fails to excite on any visceral level. Codebreaker pics the pace up again and presents a pleasing offering of thrash guitars, steadily building up and overpowering drum synths, and the odd esoteric hook lyric thrown into a mix. However with Shadow Identity we're back to a slow and steady synth-pop rock sound with some angry shouting over the top.
Tracks like Re-Arrange Your Synapses and The Only Slight Glimmer of Hope almost bring it back together but by the end of the album I was left with a distinct "Yes, and?" feeling about it all. I have no problem with a band changing its sound but with hardly any change in the lyrical content it all just seems a lot of bluster. The constant cries of "Atari Teenage Riot!" sound like random posturing and not the call to war that they were on the older works. This is a softer, more user-friendly album and I can't say that it was worth the weight, nor can I say it'll work wonderfully live because the whole point of the old ATR was that they were a total assault on the senses live and there are a couple of tracks you could play here at the local meat-market disco & not raise too many eyebrows.
Hopefully this is all due to the project having taken so long to complete, rather than how ATR will go from now on, but at this stage I have to say that whilst the prospect of hearing the old stuff live again fills me with joy I can't see it was worth defusing and diluting the impact of the original records.