Long Live The Empire

Eleven fingers are better than ten, sometimes.

If the Empire's starship (the Death Star) had a house band, it would be Six Finger Satellite (and yes, I do believe "Star Wars" lives on in pop culture-perpetuity).

Inside a weapon of mass destruction like that, there has to be some kind of bar with lots of black metal and subdued lighting, where stormtroopers go to drink and complain about that pesky Rebel Alliance. That would be the perfect place to see Six Finger Satellite take the stage.

Law of Ruins, the band's fourth full-length album, is a dark, technology-laden slab of sound that encompasses everything from the precise guitar-playing of The Jesus Lizard to the space-age synthesis of Devo. What truly sets Six Finger Satellite apart is their willingness to go to both extremes simultaneously -- playing synthesized cheese over carnivorous guitar riffs.

As the album begins, the first programmed beats of "Race Against Space" soon give way to distorted guitar-noise and pummeling drums, but it doesn't stop there. Soon enough, the pocket calculator-like sounds of '80s keyboards are blaring over the top of the frontal assault. The combination seems so natural, it makes you wonder why all those flannel shirt-wearing grunge-rockers ever doubted the power of synthesizers.

Six Finger Satellite are a band for the future -- not the clean, neat, homogenous future portrayed on "Star Trek," but one that's dark and ominous, part animal and part machine, a future full of bloodthirsty androids and clone wars. If the Nazis had won World War II, the Billboard top 10 might sound more like "Fur Immer Liebe" than the Spice Girls or Puff Daddy. Not just because J. Ryan sings the dark dirge-like song in German, but also because the mechanized beat would keep perfect time for goose-stepping SS troops.

Law of Ruins plays like the soundtrack to a science-fiction movie -- quietly building suspense, only to shatter the mood with an explosion of white noise, staccato guitar and a drumbeat so sharp you could cut diamonds with it. "Fall to Pieces" is seven and a half minutes of minimal keyboard experimentation that percolates around programmed drumbeats and fevered button-pushing, while the title track attacks the listener with razor-sharp guitar riffage and robotic vocalizations.

"Surveillance House" is an ode to the disgruntled undercover spies posing as innocent janitors of the world. Like Jim Morrison on Peruvian cocaine, vocalist J. Ryan lays the existential angst bare: "Every day I sweep the floors/ Every day come back for more ... Much to my chagrin, I don't like the state I am in/ Much to my dismay, things always turn out this way."

Six Finger Satellite are one of those bands that attack the listener. Like The Jesus Lizard or Ministry, the cacophony released when they are turned up to eleven is undeniable. The band makes music designed to destroy everything in its path. This is not the kind of music Luke Skywalker might meditate to. Law of Ruins is probably even a bit much for a hip swinger like Han Solo (although Chewbacca would probably dig some of the beats). No, this is the music of the dark side of the Force. This is the album Darth Vader drops into the stereo of his TIE Fighter before going out to kick some rebel ass.

Long live the Empire.