According to the gnostic worldview, our material world is shrouded in a dark,
impenetrable opacity. It is a murky mire inhabited by corrupted forms far removed from the light of God. Like the mysterious artwork of their eighth studio album, the music of New Jersey duo Dälek occupies similar terrain. Their brand of dense and weighty experimental hip-hop is characterised by deep swathes of hazy, often ethereal noise, which descends atop the rugged beats like a viscous fog. It’s a highly-singular sound, and one that’s rarely been imitated.
This formal radicalism is mirrored by vocalist MC Dälek, whose lyrics sift through the intersecting strands of American political failure and the country’s grim racial history. His image-leaden bars possess a elegaic quality, bemoaning the absence of contemporary radical leaders (Gutter Tactics’ ‘Who Medgar Evers Was…’) and the stupefying, fog-like malaise of modern political engagement (Endangered Philosophies‘ ‘Nothing Stays Permanent’).
Precipice continues this lamentational outlook. The potent images conjured across these ten tracks contain formidable depths of sadness and rage. MC Dälek straddles a nether ground between these emotions that results in some fascinating and troubling insights. With teeth gritted and eyes swollen he announces that “remnants of our past still smoulder” (‘Boycott’) and that “you preach division, amass munitions, demand submission” (‘Decimation (Dis Nation’). His words carry weight and significance, because they marry fury up alongside a sense of deep pain.
Producer Mike Mare has a remarkable aesthetic vision, one characterised by the aforementioned wall of sound production techniques. This style has often been compared to shoegaze, likely because many Dälek tracks intuitively utilise dreamlike, melancholic melodies to evoke seriously powerful emotions. Album highlight ‘Good’ is especially stunning, as is the muscular closing stretch of ‘Decimation (Dis Nation)’. Most striking of all is the lengthy ‘Devotion (when I cry the wind disappears)’. The rhapsodic epic is a proper tearjerker – a plea for hope and compassion, a voice crying out from within the dark.
The album’s title Precipice refers to the volatility and instability of the world today. However Dälek are not pessimistic about the future of humanity. While they paint today’s world as one defined by a stupefied, gnostic-like numbness, they are also hopeful that through radical change, we can one day return to the light.
Precipice is out now via Ipecac Recordings and can be purchased here.
Words: Tom Morgan