There have been about thirty thousand attempts to fuse hip-hop and heavy metal music since the Beastie Boys tried it first on Licensed to Ill back in 1986. Most of these attempts fall somewhere in the continuum between "unsuccessful-but-well-meaning (Ice-T's metal band Body Count) and outright bad (the odious nü-metal of Korn and Limp Bizkit).
And then there's Drums of Death, the new Thirsty Ear collaboration between hip-hop/electronic conceptualist DJ Spooky That Subliminal Kid and thrash-metal drummer Dave Lombardo (most famous as the skinsman for Slayer, but also a member of weirdo progressive-metal band Fantomas). Lombardo's truly the most fiercely metal of drummers, bludgeoning yet technically impeccable (this jazz writer speaks from experience, having seen Slayer play live six or seven times over the last two decades) and Spooky is perhaps the most gleefully experimental and collaborative artist working in the deejay world. Spooky coproduced the album with Jack Dangers, aka Meat Beat Manifesto (whose upcoming At the Center CD will appear on Thirsty Ear's Blue Series in May), and results are, for the most part, pretty damned good. At its best, the album is dystopian, claustrophobic and martial: a sci-fi fusion that sounds like the CD's Starship Troopers-style packaging looks.
The tracks are, in a sense, the diametrical opposite of nü-metal; Limp Bizkit, for example, uses inept hip-hop beats as a rhythmic base, but Drums of Death's sound starts with Lombardo's Rock-with-a-capital-R kit workexpansive, thick tom rolls and razor-sharp cymbals. Often this produces hip-hop/electronica-infused metalnot vice-versa. Public Enemy frontman Chuck D raps on three tracks, all of them hard rock remakes of classic PE tunes; of these, "B-Side Wins Again is the finest, as Chuck rants winningly over Lombardo's lock-step snare, Dangers' chugging electric guitar and Spooky's chiming electronic beats and layered, panic-attack turntable work. (Chuck D's presence is a reminder of the golden age of 1987 when Slayer and Public Enemy were both on Def Jam Records.)
Vernon Reid's howling guitar blends with Lombardo's cut-up, churning drums and Spooky's bleeping turntables on "The Art of War, and the result's not unlike very recent King Crimson. "Terrus Nullius sounds the most like a Slayer song as guest guitarist Gerry Nestler rips out a downstrokey riff and Lombardo finally produces that sternum-rattling double-kick badabadabadabada that is his sonic trademark. "Assisted Suicide has Lombardo playing a comparatively funkier pattern alongside Spooky's metronomic synth and a looped, warbling, wordless vocal from performance artist Meredith Monk. Underground hip-hop emcee Dälek contributes a terrific rap and the track is one of the CD's best.
Best of all, there's "Incipit Zarathustra, a duet of sorts between Lombardo and Spookyno guests. Spooky's ripping, wildly imaginative turntable scratching faces off against Lombardo's drums-tutorial-video collection of patterns and rolls; it's sure not jazz, but they are trading fours.
Usually, this is the sort of CD that one is eager to hear and forever after reluctant to play. Drums of Death manages the semi-impossible by successfully fusing two disparate genresand making the outcome worthy of repeated listenings.
1. Universal Time Signal 2. Brothers Gonna Work It Out 3. Quantum Cyborg Drum Machine 4. Guitar DJ Tool Element 5. Metatron 6. Assisted Suicide 7. Kulter Krieg 8. Sounds From Planet X 9. B-Side Wins Again 10. Incipit Zarathustra 11. A Darker Shade of Bleak 12. The Art of War 13. Terra Nullius (Cyborg Rebellion on Colony Planet Zyklon 15) 14. Public Enemy #1 15. Obscure Disorder (Ghosthacked!) 16. Particle Storm
Dave Lombardo: drums; DJ Spooky: turntables, beats, synthesizer, effects, production; Jack Dangers: bass, guitar, effects, production; Chuck D: vocals (#2,9,14); Meredith Monk: vocals (#6); D
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