Fifteen years ago, Justin Broadrick helped create one of the most intense, groundbreaking death-metal albums ever. Now, he's co-created one of the most intense, groundbreaking hip-hop albums in recent memory. What gives?
Broadrick, who drifted out of Napalm Death after its debut, Scum, to found the dense industrial group Godflesh, long ago found an ideal musical partner in fellow genre-bender Kevin Martin. Together they engineered a sinister fusion of heavy, distorted, organic dub beats and all forms of warped electronic sounds. Starting about 10 years ago, they helmed the groups God, Ice and Techno Animal, the latter of which hasn't released a full album since 1995's Re-Entry, a much-hailed collection of dark ambient dub. Even those familiar with Broadrick and Martin may be shocked at Brotherhood of the Bomb, which enlists a host of underground rappers laying rhymes over a musical nest that's more overtly rhythmic, though not a bit less menacing, than any of the duo's previous work.
"Cruise Mood 101" kicks it off in high gear with a combination of thumping beats, hard-hitting verbiage and explosive sonic embellishment that recalls Public Enemy at its Fear of a Black Planet peak. Only PE's Bomb Squad production team never would've dreamed of a sound as brutal as Broadrick's sickeningly distorted bass line. An inspired tag-team performance by Ruberroom sets a precedent for an album full of them. Maybe it's the fresh setting they've entered into, but all the guest rappers on Brotherhood of the Bomb (including Dälek and members of Cannibal Ox and the Anti-Pop Consortium) deliver inspired performances, none more so than Toastie Taylor's fierce alien incantations on "Piranha." Broadrick and Martin dropped some obvious clues last time out with Ice's 1998 effort Bad Blood, which also featured a fair amount of rap. But where Bad Blood was claustrophobic and rooted in a vaguely Rastafarian haze, Brotherhood features beats with a real hip-hop groove to speak of, even on the instrumental passages. "Robosapien" pounds and pounds, its deep bass vibrations augmented by a sirenlike squall and a shifty melody that skirts the edge of the "techno" in the band's name.
"DC-10" is the pinnacle of the hip-hop monster they've created. It starts out as fairly standard hip-hop, with Sonic Sum laying down abstract lines over a mid-tempo skeleton. Suddenly the Bomb hits, all the vocals go on echo, and Broadrick's bass (if it can even be called that) is mutated beyond any semblance of decency, its high, frazzled pitch melding with the booming low-end undercurrent and scratched vinyl until your speaker sounds like it's about to explode. That's one thing Brotherhood has in common with Ice's 1993 lost classic Under the Skin -- the potential to make your stereo do things you never thought possible. Death metal to death dub to hip-hop -- Broadrick and Martin deserve all the credit in the world for exploring these fields with such reckless abandon, and making one of the most ferociously rhythmic records to come down the pike in a long while.