The two men responsible for DROKK, composer Ben Salisbury and Portishead’s Geoff Barrow, met in the unlikeliest of places — a football club for old men in Bristol. Both had joined the team and subsequently left in pursuit of a collaborative musical project. At one point they had met with an undisclosed screenwriter to pitch an idea and discuss possible work on a film project. Though their work on that film never came to fruition, the pair decided to adventure further into the enterprise they had already begun and committed to. DROKK is that project’s end result, an attempted effort to create an auditory accompaniment to the legendary Mega-City One landscape, home of 2000 AD comics’ Judge Dredd.
While DROKK is appropriately stark, post-apocalyptic in atmosphere, and unnerving, it’s also a little too much of the former two, which dampens the latter element. Several of these tracks only feature one instrument, the Oberhiem 2 Voice Synthesizer, from 1975. That decision alone also lends a slightly campy feel to the proceedings, which would normally be perfectly befitting of an attempted recreation of a comic, but here that aspect falls a little flat. The duo’s commitment to only using the Oberhiem 2 also limits their sound possibilities and imposes noticeable restrictions. Barrow and Salisbury both navigate around DROKK with the relative finesse you’d expect from two seasoned veterans but after a time DROKK just start to feel tired and repetitive.
Of course, Barrow and Salisbury being who they are, there are some flashes of brilliance littered throughout DROKK, especially when they expand their palette past the Oberhiem and allow things like violin, piano, mandolin, ukelele, and hammered dulcimer into the mix. There’s also a particularly welcome cameo from Barrow’s band Beak>. There’s also some points in DROKK that feel masterful despite being so minimalist, like opener “Lawmaster / Pursuit”. However, around the halfway point DROKK begins to suffer not for lack of scope but for excess of material. The further in the record gets, the less interesting it becomes, saving for the unexpected flashes of ambient brilliance. Around “Miami Lawgiver” is when this transition takes full effect and DROKK never really fully recovers.
In DROKK endless pursuit of emulation it loses some voice, which is necessary for a project such as this to truly succeed and stand out as one of the great works of the genre. It becomes abundantly clear from the opening strains of “Eagle”, possibly DROKK‘s worst track, that the duo’s not up to the task of achieving that. However, at various points it does seem like that’s a goal they were aiming for but they continuously missed the mark. One of DROKK‘s most welcome reprieves is “Exhale” which interrupts the record’s worst run with it’s mot expansive and engaging song. “Iso Hunt” follows and offers gorgeous ambiance but little in the way of pacing or context. Those two tracks mark the record’s brightest moments and though they’re both relatively fleeting, they’re very welcome.
DROKK‘s final stretch is really just an exercise in patience to make it through to the end. When it finally does end it ends with a reprise that’s essentially just an extended version of “Helmet Theme”. It’s a curious choice that ultimately bookends the record making it very hard not to assess as one piece. Each track taken out of the context of the record and listened to on its own offers varying degrees of reward. Packaged altogether, though, DROKK becomes a towering work that’s infuriatingly middling and restricted. Barrow and Salisbury both maintained an atmosphere they establish with the first song incredibly well and offer a few thrills along the way but ultimately DROKK doesn’t stand as much more than a curiosity piece for completists.