Review: The Bug & Earth / Concrete Desert

In the latest collaboration between dub artist Kevin Martin, better known as The Bug, and Earth, the parent band of drone metal, the deepest darkest caverns of the urban jungle are explored through aggressive and intoxicating sub-levels of pounding and moaning bass. Concrete Desert marks the much anticipated return of the two collaborating artists after the release of Boa / Cold, released back in 2014. However, although the collision of these sonic minds has delivered a deeply thick, textured assortment of tracks, as an album the Concrete Desert feels remarkably barren.

The album opens with City of Fallen Angels, an ethereal track that pairs Earth’s hypnotic signature strums of guitar with a peaceful ebbing bass foundation from MartinThis is one of two formulas that the artists will explore throughout the album, crafting vast soundscapes that feel more complimentary to the style of playing from Earth. Many of the tracks that follow this formula feel as though the musical input from Earth lay draped over the physical concrete foundation laid by Martin. It is clear at this point that the artists are playing side by side rather than coming together to create a new sonic entity.

City of Fallen Angels is followed by the first aggressive track of the album, Gasoline. This track extends the suspense built by City of Fallen Angels with a minute and a half of subtle ringing broken by a foreboding ticking beat. Martin breaks this sonic slumber with a deep rounded and minimal beat, reminding the listener that sonic aggression (even in moderation) is his strong suit. Martin’s beat is soon followed by a procession of thick grinding chords from Earth, surrounding Martin’s beat with a chaotic whirlwind of sound. Unfortunately, Earth’s contribution to the track makes it difficult to hear some of the subtler scratches and ticks that compliment Martin’s beat. As a result, the chaotic discordance left me wondering how the track may have sounded had Martin’s beat been given more time in the center stage before it had been swept away into a sonic sound-storm.

This raised one of my biggest faults with the album – the songwriting. Where Martin’s dub is best explored in a tight, constricted space, the work of Earth can only really blossom in expansive cavernous spaces that fill a track up to around the 10 minute mark. I feel as though for many of the tracks the artists didn’t quite manage to find a middle-ground where both musicians play on equal or complimentary footing.

Where tracks have been extended to provide space for Earth, some of the impact of Martin’s oppressive dub is lost. The result of these more discordant tracks feels reminiscent of silk draped across pumping industrial machinery; there were very few points at which the delicacy of Earth became one with the pounding industrial dub from Martin – although the display was quite something to look at.

Although this is not to say I didn’t enjoy the experience given by the album. During the dreamier tracks, particularly American Dream and Concrete Desert, Martin subdues himself and works around the deep, echoing guitars delivered by Earth. This more apt collaboration of sound resulted in an echoing sonic wasteland – a post-modern feeling space, where the concrete brought by Martin is successfully manipulated into an endless recurring desert with help from Earth’s guitars. These tracks in particular brought the concept of the Concrete Desert to life, showing that there is a level at which Martin and Earth can communicate through their music.

The album feels very much like it would flourish in a live setting, with room for improvisation and active communication between the artists while developing their child of industrial sound. Fortunately, the pair are touring consequently to the release of the Concrete Desert – details for which can be found here.

I felt as though many of the less memorable tracks on Concrete Desert could have been elevated by a vocal performance, breaking up some of the more monotonous moments. Fortunately, the album includes three bonus tracks collaborating with JK Broadrick of Godflesh. These tracks serve to revisit the sounds presented throughout the album, re-imagining them with the brutal vocal performance Godflesh has become known for.

These bonus tracks present a wholly new, more sinister Concrete Desert than that presented by Earth and Martin alone. Perhaps if Broadrick’s vocal performance had been delivered during some of the less successful tracks in the album, the final product would have been more satisfying. The bonus singles seal the album with an foreboding ambient track, which feels like a reflective look back at the barren wasteland left in the wake rest of the album. If you are to listen to this album (which I do highly recommend), I feel these bonus tracks are essential for those in need of a little more.

As an album, Concrete Desert can come across as quite jarring. Martin’s urban dub doesn’t always get along with the the sun-bleached sound offered by Earth, often drowning out the infamous drone. However, their talents are far from wasted, providing a variety of glimpses into the minds of some of music’s heaviest artists.

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YOU CAN PURCHASE CONCRETE DESERT  AND PRE-ORDER THE ALBUM ON VINYL HERE.

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