Following 2020’s solid debut offering, Isabella Chains is back once again with more venom, more grit, and an upgrade to her studio equipment. Scream Blast Repeat applauded Eternally Ill upon it’s release in December 2020 as an album that ‘captures all that is best from a golden era of industrial music’ but lamented that ‘the record is like a time machine capsule stranded in 1990.’ Her sophomore effort shows clear progression in terms of song-writing and confident musicianship, but is it better than Eternally Ill?
The voice that emerged in 2020 was at times fragile and content to hide behind the microphone. Now, Isabella Chains has no such reservations about the power of her gullet. Nemesis is a triumph of human expression as much as it’s an example of the merits of using technology to create aggressive and vitriolic music. Chains can also claim a bona fide industrial anthem here that no other artist will equal for the rest of the year. The title track is the ultimate concoction of razor-sharp thrash riffs, dramatic orchestral hits, and dexterous synth bass loops. Wait until you hear the snarling vocal delivery and executioner’s snare – it’s the song Skinny Puppy never wrote. The guitar distortion is pure perfection in the mix. “I’m your nemesis, a self-inflicted injury/ Your nemesis, a reckless abandon of empathy,” roars the Nebraska native. It’s a pleasure cataloguing the competing layers of instrumentation towards the end. What a tune!
Of course, it’s impossible to match something so stupendous at any other point of the album, but it doesn’t help that this orgasmic experience comes as early as track number two. ‘Breaking the Code’ feels like a disappointment in comparison, but you’ll grow to appreciate it after multiple listens. It lacks a distinctive chorus to reach its true potential, but the industrial-punk beat and spiky tempo allow Chains to showcase a complexity of metallic riffing not heard on the last record. In contrast, ‘Dream Emulator’ is a missed opportunity. This one starts with the promise of the early Recoil albums, but you feel abandoned in 1989 by the end. Douglas McCarthy and Nitzer Ebb have every right to raise an eyebrow at the similarities between this song and most of their back catalogue.
A former reviewer for Scream Blast Repeat once said that all good albums need at least three excellent songs as their spine. Nemesis meets the criteria with ease. ‘Psychic Stare’ samples the chorus to En Vogue’s ‘Free Your Mind’ over a coquettish dub beat and a gliding bass line, and oozes with the same erotic undercurrent that Madonna experimented with in 1991. Closing track, ‘Mechanesia’, negotiates that most difficult of hurdles in the cold and mechanistic soundscapes of industrial music – how to communicate human emotions. The six-note sequence in the main hook speaks a thousand words. You can only applaud the way Chains switches to an angry tenor voice in the chorus like a masterful Devin Townsend. You’ll feel the imaginary soil squirm through your fingers in empathy with the singer’s angst.
Unfortunately, not all compositions meet the same high standard. ‘Chemical Haze’ would not even make the cut for track number five on a twelve-inch extended remix EP; ‘Over the Top’ is enjoyable but too close to ‘Down in It’ by Nine Inch Nails to qualify as an anthem; and ‘South-o-Sleaze’ has the swagger but remains stuck in the late 1980s. The industrial funk metal of ‘Judgement Pays (Good Cop)’ is more like it – supercharged and gnarly and unambiguous in singling out Derek Chauvin as its target of ire. We need more songs like the fuzzy groove gyrations of ‘Twitching Alive’ for Nemesis to be a true classic of modern industrial metal.
The Null Cell project continues its evolution on album number two, and you can expect the next record to be a masterpiece in modern production and digital sophistication. But you cannot shake the feeling that the best is yet to come from Isabella Chains. The highlights of Nemesis are sensational, but the small number of filler tracks prevent it from reaching the landmark status it deserves.
Release Date: 31/12/2021
Record Label: Machine Man Records
Standout tracks: Nemesis, Psychic Stare, Mechanesia
Suggested Further Listening: Skinny Puppy – Mind: The Perpetual Intercourse (1986), Nitzer Ebb – Industrial Complex (2010), Ministry – The Mind is a Terrible Thing to Taste (1989)