Vladislav Delay Blends Electronics and Metal on the Brutal 'Rakka'
Sasu Ripatti's first Vladislav Delay album in six years, Rakka, is his shortest and most brutal, tying his electronic music legacy to his metal roots.
27 February 2020
Rakka is Sasu Ripatti's first Vladislav Delay album since 2014 and his first made mostly on computers rather than hardware. That's odd given how much it feels like some great machine stirring to life for much of its runtime. It begins with a low thrum, like the bowels of a factory beginning to emit steam, before worrying blasts of noise interrupt and harsh samples begin to dice the landscape. The soft pads we hear beneath almost all Delay tracks are here in abundance, but they've never been put through the wringer like this before. This is the most brutal music he's ever made, and it stings like an Arctic wind.
Those who've traversed the harshest reaches of noise might come out exhilarated. Anyone expecting the ambient music more commonly associated with the Vladislav Delay project will have to readjust their expectations. There's one placid interstitial ("Raakile"), but that it lacks the bewitching sound design we hear on classics like Anima and Multila and tells us what his mindset is. "Raakile" doesn't exist because Ripatti had a great idea for an ambient track. It exists because it needs to: to give us a respite between tracks that sound like standing next to a rock hammer. Ripatti may be uncompromising, but he's merciful.
Before he embarked on his long and enviable electronic career under various aliases–most prolifically Delay, but also Luomo, Sistol, Conoco, Ripatti, and Uusitalo–Ripatti was a drummer in jazz and metal bands. He's especially a fan of Miles Davis, whose editing-room experiments with producer Teo Macero might've fed into some of these tracks' structures. Like "On the Corner" or "He Loved Him Madly", the tracks here will occasionally cut off and shift direction entirely. That's most impressive on "Rakkine", when its harsh, sampled yelling (from a hip-hop radio station, according to Ripatti) yields to a gabber beat before submerging into a thick soup of bass.
Certainly the connection with heavy metal is stronger here than on any of Ripatti's previous solo works. Halfway through "Rampa", we hear a quarter-note tattoo on an open hi-hat or facsimile thereof, and if we know anything about metal, we expect he's counting down to a mosh-slaying moment. Our bodies brace for impact, but no, the hi-hat bashes away obstinately, gradually joined by more and more polyrhythms. Skip ahead a few minutes into the track, and we hear something that sounds a lot like extreme metal. He gets there; he just takes his sweet time.
Aside from the samples, the most prominent new element in the Delay sound is drums. Fans of Luomo's minimal techno masterpiece Vocalcity have long yearned for drums to return to Ripatti's music. Still, these aren't four-on-the-floor grooves, but distended patterns played on bone-dry digital toms, which sometimes simulate the sound of gunfire ("Raataja") and at other times sound like an animal tearing through a tarp (closer "Rasite"). They're dry in the same remote, ticklish way as the drums on a Mark Fell album, or those on Beatrice Dillon's great Workaround from this year.
Rakka contains some of Ripatti's most thrilling and unpredictable sound design, but taken in one sitting, it's hard to know what to do with it. This is his shortest album at just under 45 minutes, but even with the respite of "Raakile" it starts to feel like a little too much by the middle of "Rampa". This isn't the kind of album you put yourself through unless you're actively trying to bombard your senses, and it's easy to dislike if you put it on in the wrong mood or the wrong setting. With Ripatti's music so self-contained, there's nothing really to grab onto besides the music itself, which can be cold and prickly to the touch.
In the time since his last album, 2014's Visa, Ripatti sold his hardware, composed some soundtracks, raised a daughter with partner Antye Greie-Ripatti (a.k.a. AGF), and embarked on several long hikes in the tundra not far north of his home on the island of Hailuoto. It's easy to imagine Rakka as a response to the stark Arctic landscape, especially given that its title refers to a common landform in the northern regions: vast fields of rocks, where little can grow. But Ripatti is insistent he's not trying to put on a "nature show" or be a "nature ambassador". Only one thing is sufficient to explain this music, and it's the gears turning in Sasu Ripatti's mind.