Jason Novak makes friends with horror and moral terror for DJ? Acucrack's sixth studio album. In the underworld of industrial drum and bass, that's a very good thing.
"If it's a choice between eternal hell and good tunes and eternal heaven and new kids on the fucking block … I'm gonna be surfing on the lake of fire, rocking out, high-fiving Satan every time I pass the motherfucking shore."
– Bill Hicks
Nobody on the planet is making drum and bass quite like DJ? Acucrack. To fly his freak flag this daringly over the face of God and the beloved Billboard Top 100 takes a special breed. Born in late '90s Chicago, the same place that birthed modern house, Acucrack was originally an electronic side project between guitarist Jamie Duffy and front man Jason Novak of the industrial powder keg Acumen Nation. Since then, they've made themselves an equal, if not greater, name on the back of five critically lauded studio full-lengths and wide sweeping tours opening for two of the biggest names in the game, KMFDM and Front Line Assembly. The unusual question mark in the name comes by the fact that, at those live shows, DJ? Acucrack mixes and performs only their own personally minted gold, thus not actually making them deejays in the traditional sense.
Humanoids From The Deep, their sixth long-player since 1998 and counting, sees a bit of a shift in the dynamic. With Acumen Nation releasing their umpteenth album Psycho The Rapist on the very same day, as well as co-billing a tour of America, it appears Duffy has chosen his side and focused wholeheartedly on the pure pounding industrial facet of the Nation. His name is nowhere to be seen in the DJ? Acucrack liner notes. Although, as usual, there are hidden messages all over the place in there, so I could have merely been programmed to miss it. Dog is love, kill your parents, and all that. Duffy's reallocation is not a big shock, all things considered. Novak had essentially dominated the production of all DJ?Acucrack tracks released thus far. Now it appears he's taken on all of the programming responsibilities, and Lord knows he has proven worthy of the task.
Styles have come and gone through mainstream club drum and bass since Mutants Of Sound dropped in 1998. However, the DJ?Acucrack aesthetic simply becomes more refined with each release. Some would call that stagnation, but I see it as dedication to the form, a notion lost in an industry screwing itself for the next big hit. DJ Hidden is close, but there really isn't anyone else producing such a perfect bastardization of ambient electronica, jungle, trip-hop, and anvil-cracking metal. No other act truly explores and exudes their influences quite like 'em, not counting the analord master freak exception to every electronic rule, Luke Vibert.
It's well known that intense sound design was never counted among their greatest strengths, often picking the same colors to paint each album (black and camo again?), yet they continue to release nothing short of the most gut-wrenching, gore driven beats every time out. Eventually, change will become necessary, lest the true artist tag become worthless to them, but things are just getting good where they are now.
"Abomination Rise" opens Humanoids From The Deep with the alien warning siren from War Of The Worlds and a bangin' hip-hop beat as dark as anti-matter. Before long, a barking synth so sharp it could destroy the cheese industry takes centre stage, while the base of the illbient track is kept intact. This number nods to the ambient intro "Stop All Sounds" from 2005's Killing Mobius contextually, just replacing a young girl playing rock star with an alien invasion. Also like their last album, the opener flows effortlessly into the subsequent track, which promptly kicks off the crackin' drum 'n' bass.
"Terror Train" continues the sci-fi horror theme, adding the three rustic brass notes from Creature From The Black Lagoon and light swishing water to a tasty tech-step breakbeat, mauled screaming, and a huge, menacing subbase that could just about cut a warehouse in half, accented by impenetrable mechanical vocals describing the depths of hell. It and the following "Menengies" are sister jungle tracks mixed flawlessly and hitting the same rough aural pallet with techy, bass heavy pads morphing into an end of the world melody line. "The Speed Of Darkness" later joins the fray with an Apocalypse Now Brando snippet and well rehearsed style, utilizing a brain-melting warp subbase that turns as fast and nasty as a junkyard dog.
It's "Reptile Race" where Novak really lets 'er rip, though. It begins humbly enough with a gearing down truck growl (faintly recalling the intro to The Doors' "Roadhouse Blues" but with less drunkenness and more animal torture), stuttering downtempo beat, and skittering UFO synths. But, before you know it, you're floating on an ethereal hip-hop breakdown, an uneasy limbo that ends up launching into a cryptic trance 'n' bass hybrid. All this adds up to one of the sickest compositions of the year regardless of genre. However, in the context of the standard slick "American Beauty VIP" (Matrix & Futurebound) tripe that gets all the major electronic magazines tweaking their nipples, it's downright revolutionary.
It's moments like "Reptile Race" that really show Novak's progression from his early DJ?Acucrack album noodling, which is noticeably thin by contrast, to the shining star of an artist he is today. Humanoids From The Deep and Killing Mobius are both serious breakout releases, nodding to the back catalogue and the Acumen Nation material (which has also drastically improved as of late), yet capturing the essential variance and experimentation that makes these albums more than mere singles collections, which is the natural tendency for drum and bass albums. These are thoroughly rewarding listening experiences for people into or just interested in the genre. Fair warning, once you get into DJ? Acucrack, all of the Pendulum in the world won't satisfy you.