If you could think of the strangest combination of two musical styles, what would it be? Dance and classical? Jazz and country? The more I think about it, the more I realize we’ve actually had a number of successful combinations of wildly varying styles; from classical and metal, (Metallica, S&M Live) jazz and rock (Steely Dan) to gypsy and punk. (Gogol Bordello) Okay, they maybe all haven’t been good per se, but they’ve been successful enough that their records have sold. A very recent and very surprising example I came across came in the form of the band dälek. (Pronounced “die-al-ek”) At the core they’re a hip hop group; composed of a rapper, producer and DJ. But their sound has more in common with industrial music, Krautrock, shoegaze or heavy metal. It’s pretty darn weird.
With most hip-hop groups, the focus is generally on the lyrics. That is after all what sets the genre apart from others; in no other genre could one pack so many words, rhymes and puns into a few minutes. Of course the music is important, but generally the lyrics take the spotlight. Not so with dälek. Their music is as much about creating a specific mood or atmosphere and allowing the lyrics to appear to punctuate that atmosphere, like a guitar solo in a rock song. And on Absence, the mood is positively nihilistic. Right from the onset you get a sense of jarring horror. The Valkyries have taken flight; hell’s gates have broken open. Thousands of screaming, bloodthirsty demons are storming through the land and are devouring our children. There’s no respite, there’s nothing you can do but sit there and experience it. There are songs that may be considered “scary” because of the lyrics. A grim story perhaps? Tales of violence/domestic abuse? Scary lyrically, but musically maybe not. Absence, on the other hand, has a downright terrifying sound. We’ve got walls and walls of sound penetrating our eardrums, bursting forth with deeper intensity. Huge sonic sheets of earsplitting noise, dissonant guitar shrieks, dark, repetitive pulsations. Pounding drum beats that sound like the marching band in a Fascist parade. Trust me folks, it doesn’t get scarier than this. Imagine the ghosts of My Bloody Valentine fronted by the decaying zombie of Trent Reznor and you’ll have some idea what this music is like. The drums and sounds are processed to the point where it any trace of human interaction is not only removed but forgotten about, erased from memory. The songs themselves are pretty long for a hip-hop group, too. On average they’re about 5 or 6 minutes, and just when you think you have a few seconds between the song’s changeover to re-gather your sanity, BOOM, you’re hit with that army of sounds again. Heavier than a lot of metal, it’s not for the faint hearted.
Of course, dälek are still a hip-hop group, and I couldn’t finish this article without making reference to the hip-hop aspect of their music. MC dälek generally takes a back seat to the beats, sometimes only appearing a minute or two into the song, such as in Culture For Dollars, or sometimes not at all, such as the short, moody interludes Absence and Koner. But when he spits rhymes, he sure makes himself heard. I hesitate to use the word angry, but he certainly has a lot on his mind that he wants to vent. The relentless barrage of industrial noise certainly makes him seem more focused and furious in his approach. He’s annoyed at society selling out in Culture For Dollars, (“Who trades his culture for dollars?/The fool or the scholar?/Griot, poet, or white collared?”) government corruption in A Beast Caged (“I grow tired of tyrants passed as presidents/evidence to theft swept under oval carpet/As inmates and children kept starving/True criminals walk free with presidential pardons”) and racism in A Beast Caged. (“Got nerve to call darker damaged/When pale skin brought anguish/Made every gun that we brandish/Stole history, culture, music and all language”) You mightn’t agree with everything he’s saying, but gosh he does it well. He sounds absolutely furious, and his bodacious approach on the mic goes perfectly with the music. DJ Still also adds virtuosic turntable scratching in many of the songs, often as a sort of outro, and his eerie squeaks and whistles add a little bit of variety and remind us that we aren’t actually burning in a fiery furnace; it’s just a record.
If I could say a word of constructive criticism, it’s that much of the album sounds very similar. Pure noise doesn’t exactly have a lot of variety. After you’ve heard the first one or two songs you can more or less know what to expect from the rest of the album. It’s dark, heavy and relentless, and at an hour long might be a bit too tedious. But honestly, this is an aspect of the album that I enjoy. It might not have any common lyrical themes, but it’s all linked by the common musical atmosphere. Think of it as more of a journey into the darkest part of your psyche rather than an album. If that’s how you treat it, it will reward you greatly. It’s terrifying yes, but we all must face our fears at some point, so why not face them and listen to some quality music at the same time? It’ll definitely make it easier I reckon.
Words - Adam