I Am

Nuclear Blast
rating icon 7 / 10

Track listing:

01. I Just Dropped By (To Say Goodbye)
02. Don't Wake The Dead
03. Go With The Flow
04. Not For Sale
05. Party in My Head
06. I Am
07. Push The Pusher
08. The New Norm
09. Revolution
10. My Angel
11. Fair Game

As important as it is for heavy music to evolve, there is something hugely reassuring about bands that find a winning formula and stick to it. Not that PAIN have been guilty of inhabiting a narrow niche. Over the course of eight albums, Peter Tägtgren's industrial metal project has absorbed every technological advance and surfed every electronic zeitgeist, with nothing more complicated than good songwriting holding it all together.

At times richly detailed and dark; at others, knuckle-headed and rowdy; PAIN have flourished through sheer persistence and loyalty to a blueprint that just works. And it still works on "I Am". Tägtgren's ninth exploration of his alter-ego is a gritty, excitable affair. Largely focusing on the brash and aggressive side of PAIN's sound, it's a comeback that rings the doorbell, waits for a second or two, and then kicks the door in anyway.

The problem with sounding futuristic is that an update is required every single time. PAIN have negotiated that issue with great intelligence over the years, and each successive record has showcased a subtle but unmistakable upgrade. Awash with synths and bursts of cutting-edge digital scree "I Am" sounds destructive but gently unreal, as if all of this is going on in the depths of some video game. "I Just Dropped By (To Say Goodbye)" is the kind of robotic stomp that would perfectly suit such a situation, but it also has a huge, goofy hook and a slight hint of menace. "Don't Wake The Dead" is all syrupy synth tones and goth metal opulence, with a pulsing beat that takes everything straight down to the death disco, where the dancefloor throbs to repurposed '80s electro-pop and abstract, industrial noise. Great fun.

Tägtgren has increasingly used PAIN as an opportunity to write infectious, electro-metal bangers. "I Am" has several. "Go With The Flow" makes like an ANDREW WK anthem redesigned by MINISTRY. "Not For Sale" is proudly lobotomized techno-rock, wherein Tägtgren commands us all to suck his balls, and retro-wave keys and big, dumb guitars collide in a shower of shock rock (via KRAFTWERK) euphoria. Even better, "Party In My Head" is as close as PAIN get to straight-ahead rock 'n' roll, and it's a sing-along marvel. "We're all living like animals / It's a new way of life!" deadpans Tägtgren, over an unassailable wall of guitars and EBM bleeps and squelches. Meanwhile, the title track feels like an even more direct attempt to write a radio-friendly anthem: a pitch-black ballad, its theatricality all comes from the drones and thumps of machines, with Tägtgren's blank-eyed vocal the only human element in a swirling maze of glass and chrome.

"The New Norm" is the finest thing here: a more adventurous layering of electronics and alt-rock tropes, it creates an atmosphere of dystopian dread that most of "I Am" does not. Likewise, "Revolution" is a moment of genuine, pissed-off aggression that weaves breakbeats and rave squeals into a driving, PRONG-like groove, with the obligatory flashes of NINE INCH NAILS' black ambience leaking through the pounding, programed drums and waves of choral ghostliness. The closing "Fair Game" is an OZZY-worthy ballad and curiously moving one at that.

Eight years is a long time between albums, but Peter Tägtgren is on great form here, and the long wait has given PAIN plenty of time to shed their skin and renew their mission statement again. It's the future. The machines are in control. Everything rocks like a bastard.

Author: Dom Lawson
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