Review Summary: Drum and bass collides with stadium rock. An excellent album emerges.
In 1997, UK electro noisemongers The Prodigy released their seminal “The Fat of the Land” album. Pulverizing the walls that separated dance and rock, they went on to become a phenomenon, reigning unchallenged as the kings of electro-rock crossover even as they released underwhelming new material and water-treading greatest hits collections. It took more than a decade for a band to emerge that would challenge for the rock-dance throne. That band was Pendulum.
For many young rock fans, 2008’s “In Silico” was their “Fat of the Land”. Fusing breakneck drum-and-bass with big slabs of rock n’ roll, it was the album that made it okay for metalheads to listen to electronica. It was also, however, a rather patchy affair that, although containing a few genuine gems, lacked a certain spark that prevented it from making the full-blown leap into mainstream consciousness. With “Immersion”, Pendulum prepared to make that next step, and once again go where no other drum-and-bass act had gone before.
It all starts off innocently, with grand, cinematic opener “Genesis” (an obvious throwback to the “Prelude” of debut “Hold Your Colour”), segueing nicely into first song proper, tempestuous instrumental number “Salt in the Wounds”. It’s pretty much Pendulum 101, and, though a tad overlong, is bursting with energy and synth hooks. But elsewhere, things aren’t quite so straight-forward. First single “Watercolour” is nothing more or less than a Pendulum arena-rock song, soaring electronics rubbing up against grand pianos and call-to-arms chants. Surprisingly, it works, and “Watercolour” is a spectacular song. Another single, “Witchcraft” is similarly epic in its ambitions, though is slightly hampered by some rather awful lyrics.
Elsewhere, they move into more new territory. “Set Me On Fire” is the Pendulum interpretation of electronica’s new craze, dubstep (basically drum and bass slowed down, with added “filthiness”). This being Pendulum, they take this sound and send it shooting into the stratosphere, with more emphasis on melody than murkiness. Surprisingly, this is another sound they seem comfortable with. Even more impressive is magnificent album centrepiece “The Island”, a two-part masterpiece that begins with a gorgeous, house-influenced feelgood anthem, and ends in a labyrinth of beats and sounds colliding to desensitizing effect.
While there are some more traditional Pendulum tracks here (drum and bass cut “Under the Waves”, “In Silico” throwback “Comprachicos”) they inevitably get overshadowed by the more experimental material. “The Vulture” sees live MC Ben Mount’s studio debut, providing frenetic vocals to a breakbeat-inspired song that sounds more like The Prodigy than Pendulum ever have before. Even more so, in fact, than “Immunize”, an excellent collaboration with The Prodigy’s mastermind Liam Howlett.
His is not the only guest appearance on “Immersion”, though it is the best. Porcupine Tree frontman Steven Wilson appears on “The Fountain”, a perfectly decent track if not a particularly outstanding one. It’s worth nothing that all the songs I’ve mentioned up to this point mesh well together, creating a rather nice album flow. This flow is comprehensively shattered by “Self vs Self”, an In Flames “collaboration” that sounds more like an abandoned In Flames b-side with little bits of Pendulum cut-n’-pasted over it. It sounds nothing like the rest of the album, destroys the carefully crafted atmosphere and, most crucially, isn’t actually a very good song.
“Immersion” comes to a close with stately 80s style ballad “Encoder”, a rather unremarkable end to a (mostly) remarkable album. Though the fact that the final three songs are the weakest is something of a buzzkill, it doesn’t overshadow the fact that “Immersion” is Pendulum’s most ambitious, exciting, and best album to date. It’s garnered them a shedload more fans, penetrated the high points of the charts and established them firmly as The Prodigy’s eventual successors. Now all they need is for their next album to be as good as “The Fat of the Land”.
Set Me On Fire