By: Jamie Jones
Dälek | facebook | twitter | bandcamp |
Released on April 22, 2016 via Profound Lore Records
The first incarnation of Dälek occupied a strange place in the rap world. They had to carve our their own niche, using production so weighty and abrasive and fury so potent it found as much favour in the metal community as it did among hip hop fans. 4 of their first 5 records were released by Ipecac, home of Isis and Fantomas, and they were as likely to be seen sharing a stage with the likes of Tool or Godflesh as they were with fellow hip hop acts. And it’s easy to see why: Absence, their seminal 2005 album, boasted an apocalyptic heaviness most guitar junkies could only dream of. And it didn’t hurt that throughout their career they were happier than most rap acts to kneel at the alter of ‘The Album’, which has always been vital to gain acceptance in the rock world.
Now, after a 5 year lay off, Dälek seek to pick up exactly where they left off, signing to Profound Lore Records, an even more out-and-out metal label than Ipecac. But there are a few reasons to be wary of their rise from the ashes. Firstly there’s the 5 years of ring rust they have to shake off. And then there’s their last pre-hiatus record, Gutter Tactics, which was by far the weakest release of their otherwise stellar initial run. But most of all there’s the loss of Oktopus, one of the key sonic architects of those terrifying aural structures that defined their classic records. At first glance it’s difficult to see what they have to offer without the promise of more of those still unequalled experiences.
Instead MC Dälek is joined by long time collaborators Mc rEK and Mike Manteca. They use a largely different sonic palette to Oktopus, but wisely feature just enough of the trademark static and dystopian sci-fi distortion to keep their roots intact. More obviously loop based and somewhat warmer in tone Dälek 2.0 sound familiar enough to honour the band they were, but different enough to press onwards and forge a new path. ‘Guaranteed Struggle’ is an exercise in building tension, featuring a sinister, anxious loop that could give the likes of Earl Sweatshirt a few pointers in how to craft unease. It threatens to reach familiar Dälek levels of almost unbearable density, but never quite follows through. Whereas ‘Critical’ sounds like a more commercial hip hop beat played loudly through a broken tape deck in a hurricane. There’s still a sense of sounding wilfully harsh, refusing to take the easy option whenever one should present itself. And it suits them as well as it ever did.
Another thing they’ve retained is the intensity MC Dälek brings to the table – if anything it may just have gone up a notch or two. He’s never been the most technically showy of rappers, sticking to the same flow time and time again, but what he lacks in dexterity he’s always made up for in passion and rage. And he sounds as angrier than ever on Asphalt for Eden. Understandably so – it may be unwise for a white Yorkshireman to comment on the racial politics of the US from a vantage point an ocean away, but you could probably sense how divided America is from space. When Dälek went on hiatus Ferguson was just a place in Missouri – one couldn’t have imagined how politically loaded it, along with names like Trayvon Martin and Eric Garner, would become. MC Dälek has rarely written topical verses, preferring to address systemic issues from an almost academic perspective. His approach hasn’t changed, which feels fitting: as awful and unbearably sad as those events were they are symptoms. MC Dälek would rather address the disease. He echoes the voice of so many with a ‘Black Lives Matter’ on ‘Control’ – but it’s a song about the political and economic status quo and how it’s set up to keep the populace divided and subservient. It’s telling that the speech sampled on ‘Control’ isn’t from a contemporary political voice, but is instead culled from Noam Chomsky’s Manufacturing Consent.
The ratcheted ferocity of his vocals work perfectly with the new build Dälek. ‘Masked Laughter (Nothing’s Left)’ is one of the biggest sonic departures; a warmer, shoegazey dream-like sound a world away from the nightmarish noisescapes of Absence. But as the familiar static rises MC Dälek sounds more aggressive than ever, and we hear the classic Dälek sound in negative – where once the measured verses drew you through the hideous screeches and crashes that collapsed upon the beat, now the hazy, inviting synths lift you up and carry you through the wounded howl of MC Dälek’s tirade. They’re not retreading old ground here, it feels like new terrain – and in typical fashion they’ve stuck their flag in it and made it their own.
Asphalt for Eden is a near perfect return from some artists that were sorely missed. If I were to go hunting for criticisms I might say that calling it a new full length album at 7 tracks might be a stretch, and whilst they’ve gotten a little less caustic it’s still not exactly easy listening. But then as they put it, “I don’t need a fucking anthem/I need change.” As the sombre distorted hook to dejected closer ‘It Just Is’ softly intones, “It ain’t gonna be alright,” I can’t help but feel oddly happy. Sure, it ain’t. It’s a deeply troubled world that seems to get more troubled by the day. But voices as potent and righteous as these offer glimmers of hope. I can’t tell you how good it feels just to say, “welcome back.”