:Retrowerks: BlakOPz – As Nations Decay
Review by William Dashiell Hammett
Reviewing the work of people you call friends can be difficult. The obligation of being a (semi-professional) journalist requires objectivity, the suspension of personal feelings and blunt honesty; while the contract of friendship means tapering harsh criticism for constructive analysis and unyielding support. Luckily for me, assessing BlakOPz’ sophomore release, As Nations Decay, didn’t cause too much of a conflict between these obligations for me.
The album starts with the light, atmospheric opening of the title track, perhaps causing you to question if you hit play on the wrong album. However, right before the impulse to check your media player to confirm you are actually listening to the correct album, Alex King’s vocal kicks you in the teeth and reminds you that BlakOPz is more than your expectations. The track itself is sublime in its simplicity: a dominating dance oriented beat and a harsh bass synth line opposed by a cleaner higher pitched melody. King’s vocals heavily effected to an almost terror EBM style punch through the soundscape with an almost pleading tone to them.
The second track, (ironically?) titled “The Beginning,” starts with a speedy beat, building, multiplying, cycling, intense electronic crescendos. Once past the opening, the beat becomes downright groovy. King’s vocals intensify the cyclonic feeling of the track. Never lacking in energy, the track clocks in at almost five and a half minutes, drilling you in the head repeatedly. Following is the track “Long Live The New Flesh” which opens with a neat little electro bass line before being joined by percussion and higher pitched synths. King’s vocals pound heavily above the music, bringing emotions into focus as the musical accompaniment builds and grows throughout. I found the delay vocal effect during the first break a bit camp, but as the song rebuilds before descending into some of the most musical chaos I’ve heard in quite a while, I can forgive it.
Opening with the sample “War is my business and business is good,” “Business As Usual” is up next. After the opening sample, the percussion and synths start up with a feeling of familiar confrontation. With the additional female vocal samples the track is almost Laibachian in mood, but more serious in nature than the parody level oftentimes presented by the Slovenian outfit. A brief moment of silence allows you to catch your breath before “Behind the Curtain” starts up with an electronic wave that introduces an almost calm percussion. As more percussion sounds join, the track still maintains a feeling of unobtrusiveness, until King’s aggressive vocals shatter that mood. A high pitched synth line during the chorus amplifies the intensity of the track, providing an interesting juxtaposition to, not only, King’s vocal but the less intense percussion track and barely heard, but supremely felt, bass line. Of course, you can’t expect any percussion to remain sedate with BlakOPz and it roars back to life after the break.
Billed as the first versus track on the album, the song “The Struggle” features Russian dark electro group Sleetgrout. With obvious contributions from Sleetgrout’s vocalist, it’s an interesting duet with King’s and Rich’s voices providing distinctly different emotions. The musical accompaniment is, in a word, big. The soundscape presented is the largest offered to this point in the album. “#culturedelete” comes next with almost disco/house-like synths and continues building in this way for almost a full minute, accented by a somewhat disturbing vocal sample, before King’s vocals join in. One highlight of this track for me was the the manner in which the early ’90s house-like synths were woven with the more harsh sounds.
The beginning of “Before the Rust” is another track on this album that makes you question if you are listening to BlakOPz. The surprisingly clean piano and string-like synth lines that dominate this track were eerily reminiscent, to me at least, of some of the harsher Blutengel tracks. King’s vocals continue to display the heavy distortion that they normally feature, and for me, this didn’t quite work for this track. While certainly not so far away from the mood of the music to be distracting, it felt like it took more effort for the vocals and music to work together to create the mood I felt the song was trying to project.
I have to say that I loved the intro of the next track, “Thick As Thieves.” The overlapping harsh synths are layered together flawlessly and when the percussion starts, the layers become even more immaculately pieced together. King’s screamed vocals complement this layering effect, adding a much more aggressive tone to the song. “Debris Machine,” the second versus track on the album—this time with Nitro/Noise—starts with a short, quieter, almost metallic intro before the synths and percussion amplify the track. Throughout this duet, King’s vocals are supported by some nasty sounding synths, while Nitro/Noise vocalist Kold’s are buttressed by some huge guitar riffs. Overall, the result is one of the more massive tracks on the album. The track ends the same way it began with a short, quiet, metallic outro.
The next track, “Turn Key Tyranny,” is screaming to be a dance floor anthem. Entirely instrumental with the only vocals provided by samples of Edward Snowden’s interview with former The Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald. The effect is a track that is as much a protest against the modern security state as Front 242’s “Welcome to Paradise” was against the 1980s evangelistic movement. A driving beat starts the track “Detonation” with which the album wraps up. After an increasingly evolved intro of well over a minute, the track begins in earnest with King’s vocals adding to the progression of the song. The result is a dirty, synth dominated, aggressive track that BlakOPz has come to excel so well in producing.
As Nations Decay is BlakOPz’s second release but it doesn’t suffer from the sophomore jinx that plagues so many artists. While I’d like to see King expand his vocal repertoire to really show off his talents, the vocals he provides on this album work well with the music and helped establish the atmosphere each track presented to me. The sounds are harsh and forceful with a touch of belligerence and the music shows a fine use of accents and melody. Many parts of the album are simply too groovy to let go of easily—I found myself humming some tracks while wandering my apartment then realizing the music had knocked whatever it was I was doing out of my head.
01. As Nations Decay
02. The Beginning
03. Long Live The New Flesh
04. Business As Usual
05. Behind The Curtain
06. BlakOPz vs Sleetgrout – The Struggle
08. Before The Rust
09. Thick As Thieves
10. BlakOPz vs Nitro/Noise – Debris Machine
11. Turn Key Tyranny
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