Emperor’s long awaited debut album is finally among us! Does it live up to the hype?
Hell yes! The young prodigy Conor Corrigan has been working on this for quite a while, wanting to make it a deep, personal look for the listener into his art, so much as releasing 6 of its intended tracks last year in the Into Black EP to leave room for something else than pure dancefloor bangers.
Of course the album is chock full of them, but the LP format allows him to explore other musical avenues to splendid results!
Much of the album’s songs display Emperor’s trademark sound, but taken up a notch. It’s really interesting to listen to all the intricate details stemming from the unique way he works with sound. I don’t know if his workflow is still entirely sample-based, but a few years back he made a video taking us through how he made his debut release for Critical, “Monolith”. He was explaining how he prefers to do everything with audio clips : drums, basslines, etc. and how he treats his entire mixes through the Ozone mastering plugin.
You may think “well, what makes that so special?” but he has managed to construct a very distinct sonic identity that is obviously influenced by the mechanical undertones of neurofunk but that sounds very organic, like every sound is breathing with and flowing into the next, like an interdependent whole, a “sonic” organism if you will. I posit that this stems from the afore-mentioned sound manipulation techniques. Every time-stretching artefact and clipping from the basses distorting the surrounding sounds adding rich details to the whole.
It’s also quite interesting that he uses a lot of breaks and acoustic drum sounds, in an era where most DnB is filled with predominantly synthesized (cough, Vengeance, cough) samples, and these sounds and the natural swing in their rhythms further add to the organic character of the music.
His use of reverb and his choice of vintage sounding melodic samples (strings, piano, etc.) also add to the atmosphere of his compositions, creating a contrast with the brash, harsh drums and basses. It is also interesting to note that while Emperor is adept at making immense drops, he seems to also take into consideration the inclusion of more melodies into his harder tunes.
Now let’s go into a more detailed examination of the songs. I usually write in depth analyses of the songs I review, but the album has sixteen tracks and I don’t feel like writing a novel, so I’ll resume my thoughts on each tune into a sentence, or two (a brilliant suggestion from my girlfriend).
“Cold Snap” is a wonderful album opener with its otherworldly intro and its immense drops that has didgeridoos and mild melting reeces battle for bass supremacy over awesome stepping breaks. It invokes a bit of that classic Noisia sound and is a bonafied future classic, and definitely a hard one to beat (but Emperor manages to do so throughout the album).
“Haste” is a pure Emperor dancefloor stormer with a simple, transforming and devastating bassline and a suspenseful piano loop that both work really well to create a tension and release structure. This one seems mainly orientated at heavy club rotation and fulfils this function perfectly.
“I Was” is a more experimental, playful track with a joyful, but somehow disturbed melody. It is a nice nod to Phace, even formerly being called “I Am” and it’s the first big surprise on the album. I absolutely love it and I wish there was more DnB like this out there that boldly takes chances.
“Foxholes” is a more minimal roller type of song, with less focus on destructive sound design and more on providing a cool, retro tech-step vibe. The ring-modulated bass is a possible nod to Current Value and how dissonance can be a useful tool for musical exploration.
“Shapeshift” reminds me a bit of Ed Rush & Optical, but mixed in with Heavy Metal squelchy 303 stabs and it gets even better on the second drop. It’s another tune that revolves around its root note and makes the most of it. Freaky cyberfunk from the shapeshifter’s realm.
“From Ashes” is probably the heaviest, darkest tune on the album. It is menacing and unrelenting, like a Terminator. It reminds me of classic Spor tunes with the huge bio-mechanoid type bass and ominous atmosphere. One of the album’s best!
“Infrasound” takes a bit of a departure from DnB and explores minimal dub-like halftime structures, later going into a breakbeat rhythm, underpinned by a dark, almost industrial, sci-fi atmosphere. A nice little interlude of sorts.
“Dispositions” is also on the softer side of things, with a laid back vibe. I find difficult to listen to it however, because of Peta Oneir’s very pitchy vocals. I respect the intention of keeping it organic sounding with no auto-tune but she seems to have a hard time keeping a note and it really ruins the song for me. The instrumental backdrop does seem very interesting and enjoyable though.
“Interstellar” marks the return to full on speaker-cone-melting neurofunk with a wonderful twisted, juicy bassline and what appear to be the first synthesized drums on the record. It’s a very high impact number and it also features some wonderful atmospheres in the quieter sections.
“One Foot” has an awesome, trancy, nostalgia-inducing arpeggio and a killer drop where the bass and kick drum are focused on rhythmic counterpoints, a figure often seen in metal (and recent Teddy Killerz songs) that works to great effect on making one want to bounce everywhere in the room. Terrific track!
“Sidestep” continues the intense dancefloor workout with a techy roller vibe filled with squelchy reeses, and a sort of mutated juke rhythm that sounds like it’s coming from a washing machine in its breakdowns, while its 2nd drop focuses a bit more on the intense breakbeat workout.
“Jounce” has a heavily shuffled UKG-style rhythm, which is quite refreshing when paired with the funky minimal neuro bass hits. Hence this track definitely puts the funk back in Neurofunk, and is guaranteed to set off intense bouts of skanking!
“Thunder” features the inimitable MC Fats, a lovely jungle atmosphere and a laid back sound that is most pleasant. It is essentially a contemporary version of jungle, but stripped of its ever fetishized breaks & augmented with a bit of uneasy, nasty bass. Lovely tune for those dreamy, rainy afternoons…
“Made Of Light” is the final track in the album’s arc, closing an intense journey with its smoothest moment. The vocals here are extremely enjoyable, never too caught up in the ever present histrionics of pop performance and just sexy enough to keep you coming back for more without pandering to easy clichés. The instrumental is, as the rest of the album’s tracks : flawless, although definitely more intent on creating a rich vibe than showing off technical prowess.
The album in itself is over, but there are 2 more tracks! VIPs of “Control” and “Mindgames”. I haven’t heard the original of “Control” but i am mightily impressed (yet again) with this tune. Deceptively simple, yet incredibly addictive, Emperor has yet again created an infectious techy roller of massive proportions!
I am more familiar with “Mindgames” and while i prefer the original, i must say that this version gets better and better with each twist and turn Conor decides to explore next! I can pretty much sum it up the way the rest of this album is : a fearless exploration, both technically and musically of Drum & Bass. Never afraid to push boundaries or sound different (contrarily to much dnb these days).
With “Dispositions”, Emperor shows us that through bold aesthetic choices and sheer aural ingenuity, he is one of the pioneers of the future of drum & bass. Always looking forward and beyond what the music currently is, and not afraid to expand the palette of a genre that too often suffers from musical inbreeding, which is a threat more than ever with the rise of youtube tutorials and the all too present me-too attitude of so many actors in EDM and electronic music at large.