Twenty-two years after their iconic progressive breakbeat debut, Wide Angle, and its groundbreaking singles “If I Survive” and “Finished Symphony”, pioneering British electronic band and revered film composers Hybrid have resurfaced with their sixth stellar offering, Black Halo. Since 2007, the core has consisted of founder, sound designer, and producer Mike Truman and vocalist Charlotte Truman (née James), who plays piano, synths, guitar, and has written most of the group’s songs since 2009’s chart-topping record Disappear Here.
Over the past two decades, the act’s official lineup has shifted with each consecutive release. Collaborators have come and gone, yet ingenuity has rarely been sacrificed for the sake of growth or experimentation. With the addition of guitarist/vocalist, Stu Morgan and Squeeze’s drummer Simon Hanson, Hybrid’s latest collection of cinematic, electro-orchestral tracks stands as some of the finest work they have crafted since their inception.
Written predominantly during the pandemic lockdown, Black Halo arrives after three stunning, game-changing singles, each accompanied by their own miniature sci-fi-centric short films. Since 2010, Hybrid have overseen the creation of their videos, and with their last audacious, eight-and-a-half-minute heist flick, “Hold Your Breathe”, the band set the bar high. Longtime fans who might have expected lead single “Flashpoint” to be cut from the same cloth as any of the tracks off of 2018’s terrific but uneven album Light of the Fearless will be taken aback.
Instead, something strange and menacing has arrived, just like the extraterrestrial streams of blue light that cascade to the earth in the accompanying music video. Fraught with a darkly delicious tension that made their earlier releases so utterly engaging, the production feels like an explosive collision between Danny Elfman and the ghost of Jimi Hendrix, but with that unmistakable Hybrid flair. Here, the shadows have returned and behind the sunlit smiles of its optimistic and defiant predecessor lie a pair of sharp, gleaming fangs.
Alien angels of blinding white light, plumes of billowing black smoke, and a mysterious amulet are but a few of the cryptic flashing images that appear throughout the video for the second single, “Nails”. Part two of the yet unreleased final entry of their short film trio, the track slowly builds with screeching synths and hard-driving metallic beats before it erupts in a snarling four-to-the-floor tribal bass line. Charlotte sings, “Am I strong enough not to make a sound? / As I pull the nails up that are holding me down” while the claustrophobic production envelops her voice. Finally, it releases its tight grip in the outro. A thrilling nod to Hybrid of yore, yet decidedly of the now, this is the sound of a band reclaiming their throne.
The triumphant third single, “Sky Full of Diamonds”, and its dazzling 170bpm Metrik remix are causing quite a stir in underground drum ‘n’ bass circles. If this track could somehow find its way onto mainstream radio both here and in the UK, there’s little doubt it would catapult Hybrid to the next level. Dare it to be said out loud that this feels slightly akin to the stomping stadium anthems of a band like Coldplay. Nevertheless, this endlessly addictive track is one the most euphoric songs in the group’s vast catalog. It’s a shimmering, summery anthem with a chorus that lingers long after the music and poetic postlude have concluded. Closing the record on a rapturous high, the single reminds us all that amid life’s trials and tribulations, the darkest night is lit by millions of bright, hopeful, glittering stars.
Black Halo is filled with numerous highlights, including the second track, “Lost Angels”. Ascending arpeggiated synths are joined by battering drums and elegant piano passages, yet its compositional brilliance is almost left high and dry with lyrics that might have seemed banal had they not been delivered with such heartrending tenderness. “No One Knows” opens with brooding strings and a strummed acoustic guitar before breaking into a beat that harkens back to the band’s sophomore outing, Morning Sci-fi.
“Carry Me Home” recalls the emotionally wrenched balladic songwriting of late, great vocalist/musician Natasha Shneider and her band Eleven with partner Alain Johannes. The pounding, atmospheric “Truth From the Lies” doesn’t let up for six exhilarating minutes. Like a lost Sunscreem cut, this brilliant, hard-hitting track is ripe for remixing. Stomper “Seven Days” recalls the reeling electro-acoustic work of Afro-Celt Soundsystem, and skittering instrumental “Voices in the Static” could easily be lifted from one of Hybrid’s moody, frenetic film scores.
The late, great Leonard Cohen once wrote, “Ring the bells that still can ring / forget your perfect offering / There is a crack, a crack in everything / that’s how the light gets in.” Confronted with the bittersweet taste of mortality, we each acknowledge that our existence is finite at specific points in life. There are moments in which we grapple with our imperfections, our cracks, and decide what can be mended and what might be beyond repair. Still, we look for the light on the other side of confusion and despair as we proudly wear our flawed, tarnished halos for all to see. On the masterful Black Halo, Hybrid continue to plumb the depths of the human experience and psyche, exploring the subtle nuances of light and darkness with sonic pyrotechnics that evoke both dread and unbridled joy, as if they were tasked with delivering the most breathtaking, apocalyptic display of fireworks one could ever imagine.