Acumen Nation [reviews]
Updated by Draconina on 10/01/2010 12:11
Psycho The Rapist |CrackNation Records, 2007|

01. Fanglorious, 02. Hatchet Harry, 03. Elective Surgical Strike, 04. Sirvix, 05. No Imagination, 06. Remedial Math, 07. Idle Lysergic Corpse, 08. Holy Terror, 09. 200 Bodies Per Minute, 10. Penultimatum, 11. Acumen Trepanation

Acumen Nation has gathered as many fans as any formidable opponents during the course of the last 20 years, but the general impression that is left after listening to their music could be described as "love it or leave it".

While some listeners are drawn to Acumen Nation for their song arrangements, guitars, bass and aggressive vocals (which all may be assigned to industrial rock or industrial metal), others have a hard time accepting the break-beat electronics the band has been using a lot. Yet, other listeners appreciate the bands efforts mainly for the typical mixture of dominating music styles like metal, industrial hardcore, rock or even drum'n'bass. Listening to the music of Acumen Nation doesn't bring up many unusual impressions, because it doesn't hold similar forms of special depth when compared to f.e., Circle of Dust or Diatribe, in which this style of music became known for.

I'm not impressed with the A.N. sound; it's not "love from the first listening" as opposed to Skrew or the music of Ministry, but... let's have a look into some facts that will explain what earned Acumen Nation a high rating on this album after all.

Acumen Nation has been active as long as both of the bands mentioned above; for over 20 years now. The band was initially called Acumen and was founded by brothers Jason and Ethan Novak in Chicago in the late 80's... and they still reside in the same city. So, we have yet another band located in the windy city near the shores of Lake Michigan. Chicago has been supporting bands whose main musical content was electronica and guitars; either through certain clubs (for DJ sets, shows, parties) or labels such as WaxTrax!, WTII, BitRiot, Invisible Records, CrackNation etc., somehow connected amongst each other most often. The city is also called the “Cradle of industrial rock” because it is the place where most of the classic bands known for this characteristic sound come from; like Die Warzau, Ministry, My Life With The Thrill Kill Kult, Revolting Cocks and Project .44.
Acumen Nation labels their music as “industrial rock”, and while following that evolutionary path, it's easy to notice that the band has been a solid inspiration to a variety of industrial rock artists during the course of the last two decades. Therefore, if such a phenomenon appears, it's always worth taking a closer look into it.

The band has never been known for following anybody else's music. They have created and continued to perform a style perfected only by themselves, in which other bands have tried to copy, especially since 2005.
Jamie Duffy (programming) and Jason Novak (production, vocals, lyrics) have anchored the band since the very beginning. This kind of dedication stands for a musicians integrity and is also testament to their deep involvement into making music which even transcends beyond the Acumen Nation name. Both of them take part in a well known drum'n'bass industrial side-project called DJ Acucrack while running their own label called CrackNation. Their label has released music from at least six other bands, each of which holding a specific sound. Every project also involves either Jason Novak or Jamie Duffy (as if they haven't gotten enough of success).

Acumen Nation (they had to change their band name from Acumen in 1997 because there was a progressive rock band performing under the same name) has released several albums so far, but as I mentioned above, the delay of recording Acumen Nation albums on a regular basis has caused the musicians involved to devote their time to different side-projects. In fact, there were no new albums from the band between 2000-2005. During that time the musicians either cooperated with other groups or were touring quite often.

Psycho The Rapist was released three years ago and is the newest album to date. It is equally as aggressive as its precursor, Anticore, that was put out in 2006. However, it's not any form of luminary music to me and the compositions left me with an impression of wishful thinking that was mainly due to a lack of atmospheres. There's no emotional depth. Instead, there are a lot of arrangements made with the use of structural math and computers. I have decided to review this album though, thanks in part to very cool and aggressive guitar riffs that are found accenting every song on the tracklist.

I like the hardcore and metal music side of Acumen Nation the best. This is a stylistic sound which appeared on the songs "Hatchet Harry", "200 Bodies Per Minute", "Sirvix", "Remedial Math", "Holy Terror" and "Fanglorious".
The longest, most developed track entitled "Acumen Trepanation" is over 10 minutes long, but somehow it is missing a crucial plot.
If you've ever heard the last two 16volt albums, an association to "Idle Lysergic Corpse" should come to your mind almost automatically. The song "Elective Surgical Strike" should make the fans of Front Line Assembly happy.

Basically, there's no weak song on the album except for "Penultimatum", which discourages me every time I listen to it due to an overwhelming amount of electronic and pop music choruses. Actually, it seems to me if one took all the electric guitar layers off, the tracks would sound like pop songs.

It's undoubtedly worth the time to listen to the bands discography. I would recommend to begin with either Anticore or Psycho The Rapist first, or even their debut album Transmissions from Eville (1994) that is filled with coldwave tunes.
On a final note, there are not many bands that can successfully manage to build their own music style, much less those who have ever succeeded at it. This is why Acumen Nation has been imitated by less creative copycats. It's also important to know there have been a few side projects created from the Acumen Nation team such as Iron Lung Corp., The Clay People, Headcase, Czar, Fawn and Anhüsse. All of these projects came out with a very typical and dynamic sound.

(Katarzyna 'NINa' Górnisiewicz, 10/01/2010. Proofreading: Scott M. Owens. Must not be used for promotional or commercial purposes. See a Legal Note for the copyrights below)

Transmissions From Eville |Fifth Colvmn Records, 1994|

1. Initialize Transmission/Matador, 2. Eville, 3. Gun Lover, 4. The Worms, 5. F.W.M., 6. Father In The Wall, 7. Noarms Nolegs, 8. Anchorite, 9. Chamaleon Skin, 10. Sutures, 11. Finalize Transmission

"Transmission From Eville" is the debut album from Acumen Nation. One of the most granitic and long-lived American Coldwave bands. No less than 20 years of underground activity, and apart from a hit and run by Chemlab (Oxidizer, 2004, where they are involved anyway) they are among the few bands that still, lucky for us, are keeping this music style alive, even if through Cyanotic and Everything Goes Cold the future is assured. Their long career is also distinguished by a sense of creativity out of the ordinary. In fact, this is the first album from a prolific discography: from 1994 to 2009. They published more than a dozen albums and EPs under this moniker.

As for talking about the moniker, it's necessary remember that they have started their career as Acumen, but after two albums, in 1997 they changed their name to Acumen Nation due to a legal dispute with another band. “Transmissions From Eville” was originally released as a demo for their own label, Robot Records, and quickly re-released by Fifth Colvmn Records with different tracklist and artwork.

But, it isn't over, because this album has more lives than a cat since it was reprinted by Coscience Records in 1998, in a remastered version (by Roger Liam, Masterdisk) under the Acumen Nation name and with an expanded tracklist, containing the following bonus tracks: "Matador (Remix)" originally published in the Re-Constriction compilation "Thugs n 'Kisses", & "Gun Lover (Remix)" released on the "If It Moves" compilation. "Scavanger in the Matrix", and "Ultraviolence" are Industrial electronica songs oriented for the dance-floor in the Front Line Assembly vibe, available on the demo and not published in the Fifth Colvmn edition.

So, if you're going to buy this CD I recommend that you find the Concrete re-issue, definitely the ultimate version. Now let's talk of those who took part in the album, since there are several interesting names, including the assistant-producer Keith "Fluffy" Auerbach, synonymous of confidence, having already collaborated with Chris Connelly, Lard, Ministry, 16Volt, Lead Into Gold, TKK.... just to name a few, Tom Baker (Mastering) and a young Jamie "Kid" Duffy (additional drum programming, Guitars, Digital Editing), who will become in the subsequent years member of Acumen Nation, and the second half of DJ? Acucrack, their breackbeat/Drum 'n' Bass side-project, which I'll discuss in subsequent reviews.

In the forefront, the band is formed by the two Novak brothers, Jason (Voice, Guitars, Programming) and Ethan (Drums, Guitars), both music and lyric writers along with Gregory A. Lopez (Drums).

The first and last track "Initialize / Finalize Transmission" contain an impressive concentration of raw sounds; The rodeo starts with “Matador”, where to put down an elusive cybernetic bull there are irascible lyrics, often inspired by the samples taken from horror movies, and the though approach on drums and guitars.

If you're asking where they took their influences, well it's easy, they are a Chicago based band, and Chicago is synonymous with Wax Trax! So here you are on the second track of the album "Eville", which is born from the influence of this memorable label like i was just saying ;) To better understand the artistic evolution of Acumen Nation, I recommend that you check out their retrospectives: Artifacts Vol. 1 and 2, published by Cracknation, two collections of demos from 1989 to 1994.

"Gun Lover" is the "HIT" of the album, the song easiest to remember. In fact, it has been published in several Coldwave compilations from those years, but they're also good for disentangling themselves into alternative rock just like in "The Worms". Which has nothing to envy to more quoted bands of those years like Korn. "F.W.M." (Fuckin White Man) is unforgettable for the movie sample "Damn It.. I said I was all right!" uttered by Bruce Campbell in Evil Dead II, in conjuction with dance beats and heavy guitars, but mostly for the polemical tone of its lyrics. This will not be the first and only time that they'll vivisect with synthetic coldness the modern society. There's also a place for good guitar anthems, like in the song "Father In The Wall", reminiscent of Pantera's "Vulgar Display Of Power".

One of their most beautiful songs is "Noarms Nolegs", violent and heinous like a Dario Argento movie, its lyrics are second for cruelty only to "Flashback" by Ministry. This amazing song was re-recorded in 2006 for their "Anticore" album in an even more outstanding hardcore version. The good moment continues with "Anchorite", another top notch song, and "Chamaleon Skin" which has a great guitar riff, but is compromised by the excessive length, grinding on too long & too much.

As the minutes go by, you can hear a familiarity with "The Clay People", an Albany, N.Y. based band, and indeed these two bands will create the side-project: "Iron Lung Corp.", publishing the very good "Big Shiny Spears" in 1996, which includes "Frozen Shallow", present in the "Transmissions From Eville" demo, but not on the subsequent re-issues.

Between all these positive things there are however some faults, for example the vocal distortion and the massive background of guitars in the long run may be boring, making it difficult to listen to all in one breath. The sound design is a little bit dated nowadays, but also in the year of publication it wasn't very original compared to some releases of the same age. By comparison with alienated bands like Chemlab, here we have less freakish madness, and a more "two-dimensional" sound. These are the only things that didn't convince me.

This is the first successful step of a great band, and if you like this sound, remember to also check out "Firetribe" by The Clay People. These two bands know how to write good music.

(Marco Gariboldi, 03/25/2010. Proofreading: Scott M. Owens. Must not be used for promotional or commercial purposes. See a Legal Note for the copyrights below)

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