Review Summary: As brutal as dubstep gets.
It may be a slightly disappointing thing for an excited Burial fan to find out, but there's an argument brewing that, actually, dubstep's biggest star isn't even a dubstep artist at all - his music is too atmospheric, too beautiful, not rhythmically slavish enough. I won't get into how much truth there is in that argument right now, but it's certainly true that the man who has been designated as the figurehead of dubstep sounds little like his contemporaries. Pinch probably comes closest, but his songs are just that - songs - as opposed to Burial's more composed, non-linear tracks. Outside of that, artists like Kode9, Spaceape, Various Production, and Skream tend to make music that's less organic and more obviously rooted in UK's underground dance scene than anything you'd imagine Burial would make at this point.
Genre elitism, perhaps. Every artist in the genre stills shares a 2-step beat and a hardcore aesthetic, after all, and how they push and pull the music around that should be their own choice.
Vex'd, too, are pushing in a direction that's seen some people cut them away from the genre. The difference here is that this production duo have gone in an entirely opposite direction to Burial. Whereas his two albums were built to be listened to loudly in the dark, with headphones on, Degenerate
is simply built to be listened to loudly, any time, any place. It's fuc
king brutal. If you want intricate production then you'll probably find it here, but ultimately this album is all about making a 2-step rhythm and a breakbeat production sound like the heaviest thing in the world. The obsession with brutality and power almost moves this into industrial territory; it's easily heavy enough to please any metalheads that don't have an inbuilt dislike for electronics.
Tracks like "Gunman" and "Lion V.I.P." are so impossibly dominated by their respective drum patterns that you barely even notice when something else happens. "Lion V.I.P." gets around that by cutting the percussion away entirely to draw your attention towards the sheer amount of noise they can make with synthesizers and the primitive glee they get from doing it. That's the other defining feature of this record - you constantly get the impression that the members of Vex'd have no interest in pleasing anybody with their technical prowess in electronic manipulation, because they'd just rather go about making a shit
load of nasty noise. There's rumbles rough enough to break speakers, wobbling basslines that throw back to the nastiest end of drum'n'bass, blasts of white noise used as percussion, and brief moments of silence interrupted by every sequencer, sampler, and synthesizer firing at once on full volume. For roughly 4/5ths of its length, Degenerate
is ALL about pissing off the neighbours - it's loud, aggressive, and uncompromising in the extreme. You could argue, then, that this music says as much about living in council estates in England's slums as Burial
does, even if it does so in a much less eloquent way.
Respite from the chaos does come in brief doses. "Crusher Dub" is more or less a straight-up dub track that works as a much-needed pause in proceedings despite some nasty drum processing, and "Fire" offers up a beautiful sample of a string quartet. The menacing, minimal interlude "Destruction" completes the album's more measured mid-section. Despite that, though, the abiding impression of Degenerate
is a brutal, nasty Neanderthal of an album that will piss off as many people as it entertains - and if this sounds like your kind of thing, then you'll probably have a hell of a lot of fun listening to this. The second disc contains the 12" singles that created the buzz for this album in the first place, including the early versions of "Lion" and "Pop Pop", renamed for the album as "Lion V.I.P." and "Pop Pop V.I.P.".