Ever since their debut in 1999, Dälek has been making some of the rawest, noisiest hip-hop released to date. Loud, textural beats by producer Oktopus; politically charged, clever lyrics; aggressive, compelling delivery by MC Dälek. From the extremely noisy and vitriolic early records to the more depressive shoegaze influenced album Abandoned Language, Dälek has been making forward-thinking and engaging hip-hop for over a decade. Now, here we are: almost seven years after the release of 2009’s Gutter tactics. Oktopus has stepped back with DJ rEk and Mike Swarmbots taking his place. That would lead us to expect a change of pace, some refreshment in terms of sound maybe. Sadly, this album is painfully similar to everything Dälek has put out in the past seventeen years. They seem to have found the middle ground between the noisy early 2000’s and the more ambient sounds of their discography’s back-half. The question for Asphalt for Eden remains, “will those polar opposites heighten each other, or just turn into a foggy, muddled mess?”
Unfortunately, the answer to that question is the latter. The album starts off promising. We’re immediately thrown into an atmospheric but hard-hitting beat, with a powerful hook and a noisy melody. It feels expected, but fresh nonetheless. The vocals are layered high into the mix (in contrary to most of the record), which really compliments MC Dälek’s vocals. The musicality of the song makes up for the fact that it has basically no build-up at all; it just seems to start with the musical idea that gets stretched out over the duration of the song, a flaw that most of the tracks on this album cope with.
That musicality is something that the majority of the tracks on this record lack, something that’s especially problematic given there are only seven tracks on Asphalt for Eden. At times, it seems like Dälek is using the blanket of noise to cover up the lack of innovation their music has suffered from for years. The third track, “Masked Laughter (Nothing’s Left)”, is dreadfully long with no growth or transitional moments. It starts off with a tired melody that eventually gets swallowed in soft noise. MC Dälek’s delivery is borderline whining, resulting in a mixed tone that never feels authentic or compelling. This is not representative of the rapping on the majority of this record; it often feels aggressive and real, and the lyrics are generally great, something to be expected from a group who’ve shown such poetic poise in the past. The hooks on the rest of Asphalt are really well done, dare I say catchy. But the vocals are often layered so low into the mix that it’s really hard to directly understand what MC Dälek is saying.
Reading into the lyrics, you really get a sense of the bottomless pit MC Dälek finds himself in mentally. Through his eyes, this world is a grim field of misery, without any joy to be found. His aversion against the majority of humanity is very texturally described, his disgust with the people in charge seems even greater. While these lyrics are not a radical change of direction in the light of earlier Dälek projects, they are a high-point in the album, and it would help the album so much if the music complimented the lyrics, instead of creating a fog-bank of noise to blur their impact.
But it’s this hazy fog that masks the lyrics throughout the entirety of Asphalt for Eden, cloaking what could have been some of the group’s best work into a sonically similar trek of emotional disconnect. The second longest track on here, “6db”, features instrumental dexterity and stands above a song like “Masked Laughter”, but it’s completely instrumental. It feels like a filler, and on an album that doesn’t reach 40 minutes, it feels inexcusable. Dälek does succeed to create a depressive, and sometimes great atmosphere on this album, but the songs never feel fleshed out in a way that satisfies the arduous wait the band has suspended with their gap in releases. There are highlights, like the shortest track on here, “Critical”, which is pretty straightforwardly belligerent compared to the rest of the album. But it isn’t enough to save the album from feeling like a blur of one-notedness.
This album isn’t unlistenable; it’s content is never wrought with triteness to the point of losing all semblance of interest, but the entirety of Asphalt feels without purpose. It’s just there for 38 arduous minutes, and it’s gone when it’s over, a fleeting memory of a group who’ve long lived past the point of their artistic peak. Asphalt for Eden takes a lot of the raw and interesting things that Dälek has done in the past and blends it into something bland and forgettable. This album proves once again that no matter how great your lyrics are, how convincing the atmosphere is, it becomes futile if the instrumentation doesn’t parallel that same level of quality. When the band has captured these sounds in vastly better ways in the past, why bother with this modernized, diluted derivative of a counterpart?
– Jesse aan de Wiel