Marc Heal

[The Hum sleeve]"The Hum" (Album, 2016) !Recommended!

Armalyte Industries

Founder of 90s industrial crossover act Cubanate and a member of the C-Tec project alongside Front 242's Jean-Luc Demeyer, Marc Heal finally gets around to releasing his first ever solo album via Armalyte Industries. It was worth the wait.

Heal's personal journey differs somewhat from that of his peers in that after four Cubanate tracks were licensed by Sony in 1997 for use in the first Gran Turismo PlayStation game – which went on to be a massive global hit. The track Bodyburn was also featured in The Sopranos and the Mortal Kombat movie. And, although he fell silent musically, he continued running the Fortress Studio in London and carved out a career making documentaries for the BBC and Sky.

All of which no doubt helped with his choice to relocate to Singapore in 2012. After which a desire to write was rekindled. In 2014 his first book, the partly autobiographical The Sussex Devils explored the religious mania and moral panic surrounding Satanism in the UK in the 1980s. His musical return came via the superb Compound Eye EP (shamefully not yet reviewed here) under the moniker MC Lord of the Flies alongside PIG's Raymond Watts.

I mention this circuitous route to Heal's return to songwriting as all of this has filtered through into The Hum in one way or another.

The results are distinctive and thrilling. It really feels like a work of mature confidence, inspired in part by his life in the chaotic megacities of the East, the album came together in just five weeks of intensive but flowing writing. Proving that Heal's creative juices just needed to be triggered to begin flowing again. (The album was preceded by the 6-track Adult Fiction EP.)

I was never a fan of the Cubanate sound, and you needn't be either, as The Hum operates on a different and (for me, at least) higher level. Heal's industrial roots are evident in the use of hard electronics and some passionately forbidding vocal delivery but these aspects are counterbalanced by dark melodic touches.

Then there's Heal's dense lyrics. I never paid much attention to such things with Cubanate (was that even necessary?). Perhaps it's a knock-on effect of having published his first book just a couple of years previously, but his lyrics really do sound (and read) like verbatim extracts from a series of fascinating, dark novels. They're not trying to be clever or pretentious, they just deliver a captivating narrative. (Thankfully, the lyrics are printed in the booklet that comes with the album, so the curious can read/sing/hum along.)

At first, I found it a little odd, but once I got into Heal's style of delivery it actually makes for compelling and multi-layered listening.

The opening lines of the first song Tianamen could be from a cold-war spy novel: “I looked at the face of a lost boy in a photograph. It was given to me by the hands of a dissident man. Drank spirits from a quart in an anonymous apartment. Somewhere on the fourth floor above Tianamen.” all over sharp percussion, chugging guitars and epic sweeping synths during the chorus. Their matter-of-fact style, elevated almost to sinister poetry by Heal's dramatic and emotional delivery.

This is a fine collection of stories and songs. Stylistically, it shares at least some DNA with that crossover style of hard electronics and industrial guitars over melodic backlines that only a handful of bands ever really nailed 20+ years ago. It makes me think of Girls Under Glass, Die Krupps back in the day, and more recent Gary Numan. And, if you are a Numan fan and you're not sure if this is gonna be for you, start with Wounded Dog - and then decide.

Heal takes us on a heady, sometimes dazzling journey from the street gutters of Monoxide, where the 99% reside, all the way up the ladder to the 1% cosseted in their Show Homes For Luxury Living, but being in the comfort zone doesn't actually deliver on the promise of a life in the clouds. There's something chillingly hollow just below the façade, implying that it's actually somewhere in the middle of the social strata that the most fulfilling lives can be lived. In this respect there's something slightly Ballardian to many of Heal's observations.

Still, for those that crave more Cubanate, the good news is having reformed for an apparently 'one-off' performance as part of a stunning old-school line-up at last year's Coldwave festival in Chicago, an album of re-masters in the pipeline. So, however you choose to come to Marc Heal's work, you'll be well served.

But, for my (and I strongly suggest your) money it's Heal's debut solo outing The Hum that impresses like nothing else he's ever turned his hand to. I just hope we get to hear this live sometime soon. 8/10

Rob Dyer (January 2017)

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