Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Album of the Week: Drums of Death

Over the last fifteen years, I’ve been really happy watching the proliferation of electronics throughout popular music. It’s not that I’m happy with the sort of sound manipulation that could turn Jessica Simpson from shower-time howler to pop icon; this I could live without. What I do appreciate, though, are the producers and DJs who have used their art and skill to mastermind and coordinate albums in all genres of music. Samples, loops, and field recordings have influenced some of my favorite metal bands; most namely, Neurosis. I love this stuff but, just as much, I respect those who bring together artists of various genres to make brilliant, if often hard to classify, music together. Among my favorite albums like this include the Dan the Automator and Price Paul collaborations as Handsome Boy Modeling School and “General Patton vs. the X-Ecutioners” with Mike Patton and the legendary San Francisco DJ group. While the albums can be inconsistent, the variation in sound and texture can be incredible, bringing disparate sound together into seemingly limitless variation.

Currently, the album of this sort that I’ve been listening to frequently is 2005’s “Drums of Death,” a collaboration of experimental turntable artist and producer DJ Spooky and the brutally revolutionary former Slayer drummer Dave Lombardo. Released on the Thirsty Ear label, this is not just a combination of break beats, samples, and thrash drumming. It pulls elements from hip-hop and metal no doubt, but there is as much Tony Williams in here than there is Slayer. Spooky produced the album with Meat Beat Manifesto’s Jack Dangers and, on various songs, incorporate the likes of guitarist Vernon Reid, composer and vocalist Meredith Monk, avant-garde rapper Dalek, and Public Enemy’s Chuck D. That’s one hell of a lineup and, while every song isn’t a home run and the style switching track to track seems sometime schizophrenic, they put together a really fantastic quilt of musical styles. From straight ahead ambient manipulation to instrumental hardcore metal to world percussion to jazz, the talents of Lombardo and Spooky are pretty fantastic. The backing drums are aggressively brutal and the production is impeccable, but the real highlights of “Drums of Death” are the appearances from Chuck D. Remixes of “Brother’s Gonna Work It Out” and “Public Enemy No. 1” show that Chuck’s never lost his vocal talents, but the reworking of “B-Side Wins Again” is one of the most brilliant re-imaginings of a song that I’ve hear in some time. Replacing Flavor Flav with a vocorder, Chuck raps over Lombardo and Reid making good, old-fashioned metal while Spooky’s production and DJ work bounce all over the place. The song makes my hair stand up. When it’s done right, the rap and metal combination has come a long way since the “Judgment Night” soundtrack. The variations in style make it hard to recommend to fans of one particular style of music, but it’s still highly recommended.

Above is Lombardo at his clinic, playing a little polka, then playing a little Slayer. It's all the same anyway....