Review: Dälek ‘Precipice’

‘I hold myself to a higher standard, I don’t give a fuck if your Gods are angry.’

The hook on late album track A Heretics Inheritance, which also features the guest talents of Tool’s Adam Jones on guitar, sums up the mission statement of New Jersey experimental hip-hop crew, the mercurial and innovative Dälek.

Dälek 'Precipice'

Since their inception in the mid-nineties, the group comprising mostly of the core of MC Dälek (Will Brooks), Oktopus (Alap Momin) as well as collaborators Joshua Booth and Mike Manteca, they’ve shared the stage with a wide variety of artists from Grandmaster Flash to The Dillinger Escape Plan, Godflesh, and Melvins, they’ve also combined with metal/hardcore punk band Starweather on the 2010 album This Sheltering Night. Having found homes on labels less associated with rap music; Profound Lore, Exile On Mainstream, and Mike Patton’s Ipecac Recordings, Brooks and co have frequently walked a path that has separated them from the run of the mill.

Inspired as much by My Bloody Valentine as Public Enemy, their heavy, dense, sampled sounds have been crafted with influences that have lead them to embrace elements of krautrock, shoegaze, and industrial alongside pounding hip-hop beats. Determined not to be pigeon holed by mainstream commercial expectations of what the genre should be, Dälek craft a varied collage of sounds to challenge and subvert the listener.

Work on Precipice began in 2019, prior to the Coronavirus outbreak, and was originally conceived as a very different album. Like all of us in the subsequent fallout, the group found that the world had changed, society had changed and what they had previously recorded didn’t reflect the feeling and message that they wanted to communicate.

Beginning with the droning warning siren call of Lest We Forget, the album opens with a Silent Hill type film score sound. Ominous and overlayed with industrial sounds, like some cold war missile silo moving into firing position, which is aptly appropriate as the first track with lyrics, Boycott, drops its dark, heavy flow like the sound of a detonation.

Booming and laced with dub beats, Brooks spits his message with venom and a feel of murkiness, like a politically charged Cypress Hill, as he intones ‘Societies been failing you’. The hypnotic beats continue on Decimation (Dis Nation) and the lyrics dance in smooth, articulate cyphers, raging and pleading ‘All you had to do was listen.’

Hip-hop has changed the face of music production in its existence and as someone who revers the magnum opus that is Dr Dre’s 2001, it is also one thing to have a tape full of dope beats, but from Doug E Fresh and Slick Rick to Baby Keem and 42 Dugg, the same standard applies to people who want to be considered masters of the game; if your bars aren’t tight, then you’re definitely going to be found out.

delivered with conviction, making their work so authentic and their integrity unquestionable…

Fortunately, in this area Dälek excel. Never dramatic and ironically quietly understated, Brook’s delivery is controlled fury on lines like ‘How you gonna ask if I’ve been to prison?’ that’s delivered with conviction, making their work so authentic and their integrity unquestionable. The mixing of beats continues on Good with sample call backs that take a cool refrain, are amped up, and twisted into something different, laying a foundation for more sardonic spitting.

Despite the more straightforward feel of Precipice, the tracks distinguish themselves from each other in subtle ways as the album progresses. Holistic claims that the message hails from a stream of consciousness as it melds with the rich flow, and hard hitting track The Harbingers, which has a surreal feel as the group seem to look back at their career with lines like ‘Don’t know where the margin was, pushed too far and at times we were harbingers.’

As ever with Dälek releases, the album rattles the speakers. The moody, Public Enemy like vibes are given a steroid injection courtesy of Manteca and as they pile dense layer on top of dense layer, like on the swirling sounds of Devotion (when I cry the wind disappears) or the Godflesh like mechanical clank of the title track, this album sounds like soldiers going into combat in the stark wilderness of the cover art.

A Heretic’s Inheritance, with Adam Jones’ distinctive tone gives another slant to both their sound and his. The woozy almost eastern flavour and screeching feedback edge feels made for the revolutionary to jam on headphones as they plan how to combat the nation of millions that would aspire to hold them back. It shows the group’s ability to drive their vision of hip-hop beyond the en vogue mainstream of autotune and mumbling without a real message, that’s hammered home on final track Incite as they chant ‘This is for the writers and the freedom fighters.’

How far this vision is from the original album, some 42 tracks narrowed down to 17 before pre-production in 2019, only Dälek could say, but this feels like a diary entry that encapsulates the frustration of the global climate. The dissatisfaction of the everyman in the face of political corruption, social unrest, injustice, and a disconnection from reality due to the unrelenting power of social media, fake news and a disregard of our core humanity.

Once again Dälek have delivered an album that challenges on a cerebral level as well as battering the listener with dank beats that throw up an audio spectrum, making it sound like a transmission of another realm. Catchy, off kilter and crafted to conform to no one’s idea of what they should be but their own.

As the man himself says, ‘I play chess, put away your checkers.’

Label: Ipecac Recordings
Band Links: Facebook | Bandcamp | Twitter | Instagram

Scribed by: Mark Hunt-Bryden