Like many of those full-lengths, Second System is based on a concept. X was a graffiti artist in the '80s, bombing the New York City subway system along with Joey Beltram and many others. In exploring the underground tunnel network that connected the lines, he eventually discovered unfinished stations and dead-end tunnels. Naturally curious, he learned that they were part of a huge undertaking in the '20s and '30s to serve emerging neighborhoods in the city that got scrapped before it could be completed. (World War II and the city's shift in focus toward automobiles being the main reasons.) Second System is the sound of X remembering what it was like to find such a ghostly labyrinth.
As a result, most of the material on Second Systems tends to work exceptionally well on first listen. There's a sense of the unknowable throughout—and a dread that must've accompanied X when he couldn't find an explanation as to why these tunnels existed. "Shell Stations" bangs along with an increasing ferocity that suggests the queasiness that comes with an unsolvable mystery. "The Winfield Spur" has that aforementioned piano, accompanied by what sounds like a distorted cloud of guitar lurking behind it.
There are brief moments of respite. The synth line on "Elevated Dreams" evokes the second word in its title instead of, say, nightmares. It's also one of the album's least successful songs, though it's unclear whether that's simply because X doesn't handle lightness well or because it sounds incredibly dated. Industrial, as a general rule, hasn't done as well as other genres in that latter regard. Which is why when he veers toward more abstract climes—like "Subway Inertia" or "Nine Decades Later"—you get the sense that you could quite easily come back to them in 2025.
As for 2012, Second Systems showcases a side of Adam X that many haven't heard before. The immaculate sound design on those Traversable Wormhole 12-inches was no accident, and when employed to less floor-specific ends, X proves capable of inspiring the same sort of atmosphere.