Album Review: Powerman 5000 - "Builders of the Future"

Full disclosure – I am a longtime fan of Powerman 5000, beginning waaaaay back in the “True Force” days. That probably makes me more forgiving than some. All that said, my faith in PM5K (as the cool kids (double parenthesis: of which I was not one,) called them back in the day,) wavered pretty badly during the punk-influenced era of the band’s history beginning with the iffy “Transform,” and its follow up, the rather ho-hum “Destroy What You Enjoy.” Those album arcs, even as they were happening, seemed like Spider had gone on a sort of musical walkabout; with half to all of his classic lineup departed, he needed to wander into the outback and explore his musical roots.

The band was also confronted with some pretty terrible luck. First Dreamworks records, the label that had turned the band from Boston into a worldwide phenomenon with “Tonight the Stars Revolt,” went under. Powerman signed to DRT and things were looking up….until DRT went under, too.

Just when it seemed there would be no grand comeback from PM5K, a little album called “Somewhere on the Other Side of Nowhere” landed on the outskirts of the radar. Suddenly, there was revealed an ember smoldering within the greater furnace of Powerman 5000. Five years have passed since that space-helmet equipped comeback and now patient fans have been rewarded for their loyalty with the coming of “Builders of the Future.”

Let’s address the elephant in the room first; no, this isn’t “Tonight the Stars Revolt.” It’s not supposed to be, it doesn’t have to be and it doesn’t try to be. Good, bad or indifferent, that era of overdriven, super-grunge sludge metal is likely gone. In the meantime, where “Builders of the Future” excels is in being a reimagining of the very idea of pop metal, run through the filter of PM5K’s electronic idiom.

When we commonly think of pop metal, we think of bands that cater to the lowest common denominator both lyrically and musically – an ugly milieu of beer addled, drug swamped misogyny that plays out in two-four time with nothing but a downbeat to its name. Spider and his assembled musicians have turned that formula on its ear, creating an accessible, memorable and crowd-ready sound through an emphasis on their electronic roots. Spider has talked a lot over the years about wanting to give the crowd songs that they can sing and dance to, which is hardly a foreign concept, as contemporaries Static-X were beating around that same bush for a long time. Where Powerman supersedes the efforts of others is in embracing the idea that metal can be electronically based, not merely electronically influenced.

“You’re Gonna Love It If You Like It Or Not” and the title track are situated right in the album’s middle third, and boldly blur the boundary between techno and metal. Each song seems a little hokey the first time through, but subsequent listens reveal the genius of the ideal, as it’s far too easy to find yourself humming the choruses a few hours later. These cuts are the logical extension of last album’s “V for Vampire,” and both work better than that early attempt did.

Don’t be fooled though; “Builders of the Future” is still a metal record and moreover, a capable Powerman 5000 record in the classic image. Okay, yeah, Spider doesn’t reach down for his visceral scream like he did for “They Know Who You Are,” but his songwriting remains crisp and his current lineup can still bring the pain. Whether or not the overdrive is cranked to eleven, the punch of “Invade Destroy Repeat” is contagious and undeniable. It’s a welcome return to form from a band who has said they want to get back to giving the fans what they’ve always wanted. Couple this with the mock-sinister edge of a party tune like “We Want it All,” and you’ve given the masses the album that they can get behind.

It’s worth noting that I really can’t decide what to make of “I Want to Kill You,” which as far as I can figure is Powerman’s first attempt at a piece of this nature. It’s an ambling song with a chilling affectation, though the stark contrast between this and the rest of the pieces in the catalogue make it hard to determine how seriously we’re supposed to take it. It’s not bad, and it’s one of only a couple songs that go over the four-minute mark for this record, but it’s curiously placed and hard to make heads or tails of.

“Builders of the Future” combines PM5K’s electro-metal formula with Spider’s affinity for short punk songs to create an experience that is both versatile and compelling in short bursts. It’s a pretty damn strong statement from a band on the comeback trail, and should win back a pretty healthy chunk of fans who may have become jaded. If you’re an old fan, or a kid who’s too young to remember 1999, then use this album to get caught up. It’s well worth it.

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