Review Summary: Aussie/UK drum'n'bass kings widen their scope with interesting results...
Reinvention - it's a pretty loaded word - one which conjures up visions of bands embracing high-art and becoming sad caricatures of their former selves or one which leads to the inevitable cries of "sellout," but also one which can hint at a turning point in a band's career, where they consolidate their strengths and reach the next level in creativity and success. Since vocalist/producer extraordinaire Rob Swire began recruiting a live band for his drum'n'bass collective, there's been much talk of Pendulum
undergoing some kind of reinvention, and to say it's divided their fanbase in two would be something of an understatement.
Being a student at Coventry University in the UK (where Pendulum
have played at least 3 gigs/DJ sets in local nightclubs in the last couple of years which, frustratingly, I've been unable to attend so far), I know plenty of people who were massive Pendulum fans when their debut album Hold Your Colour
was originaly released back in 2005, and it was these friends who introduced me to the band. Currently, at least half of these people will now admit to disliking Pendulum, thanks to the changes the band have undergone since that album saw its original release. However, I fall into the camp who, having heard In Silico
in it's entirety, can honestly say they're massively impressed with the direction Pendulum have taken with their latest effort.
It's at this point I should make it known that I am categorically NOT a fan of drum'n'bass, regardless of the sub-genre. Yes, if I've been dragged into a club or bar by a few mates, then I can just about put up with it, even occasionally find some of it quite catchy, but the sheer repetitiveness and reliance on predominantly the bassline and drumbeat to carry the songs has always left a bitter taste in my mouth. Hold Your Colour,
however, demonstrated that drum'n'bass and intelligent songwriting/composition are not mutually exclusive, and after a few listens, I was converted. Pendulum
were clearly a band who had one eye on the dancefloor and one on the kind of music enthusiast who prefers to actively listen to an album from start to finish. Tracks like "Slam"
and "Another Planet"
catered to the pill-munching ravers, while the more laid back melodies and textures of the title track provided an uplifting experience for the less club-inclined listener, but at no point during the album was there a part which would completely alienate either party. The result was a solid album which built a more solid bridge between pop and drum'n'bass than ever before, but one which remained "on-the-fence" so to speak, afraid to nail its colours to either mast...
With In Silico
, Pendulum have dispensed with the unnecessary guest "musicians" (the likes of which made "Tarantula"
such a fu
cking chore to get through), and provided a more concise presentation of their sound in a mere ten tracks. Like The Prodigy
before them (and I'm not the first person to make this comparison, not by a long shot...), Pendulum
have done away, for the most part, with synthesised drums, and integrated live guitars and drums into their sound with incredible effect - effectively closing the gap between rock and drum'n'bass. This, along with the increased use of vocals to carry a song's melody (particularly in singles "Granite"
and "Propane Nightmares"
as well as the epic closer "The Tempest"
), and a greater variety in the structure of songs has brought the songwriting to the fore, giving the impression that this time, it's a full-band effort, not just a couple of faceless DJs hidden behind a mountain of samplers, synths and decks.
That said, there's still hints of the Pendulum of old, in the latter half of "Show Down"
and tracks like "Midnight Runner"
where the guitars are kept to a minimum, and the repetitive dance-floor rhythms are launched forth with breakneck speed and precision. Alongside the irresistably catchy melodies of "Propane Nightmares"
and "The Other Side,"
this provides the sort of variety that should ensure popularity in spite of the few fans who've turned their backs as a result of the decision to do something other than straight-up drum'n'bass.
The highlight of the album, for me, is the closing track "The Tempest."
Kicking off with subdued echoey guitar chords, subtle percussion, and wandering vocals, it slowly morphs into a nifty little rock-infused verse section (it's no coincidence that the band have been known to cover Rage Against the Machine
's "Killing in the Name"
at live gigs, and the riffs on show here are indicative of such influences), full of catchy melodies, bad-as
s riffs, and driving rhythms, before segueing into a false ending, followed by a synth-heavy outro which redefines the word "epic." More than anything else on In Silico
, this demonstrates Pendulum
's ability to craft an amazing piece of music, with the ability to appeal to fans of any genres even vaguely related to pop, rock, and dance.
However, despite my enthusiasm, I do have one or two complaints... First of all, the vocals, whilst being forcefully and passionately delivered in some places (see the shouts of "This is a new way!!!"
and the majority of the vocals in "The Tempest"
), often suffer from an emotionless delivery, made worse by the vocoder-like effect which is employed all too often. It's clear from the high-notes he reaches in "Propane Nighmares"
that Swire is a competent and reasonably impressive vocalist - hopefully next time he'll have gained the confidence to not hide his words behind layers of effects, and sing with a little more conviction. The other attribute which drags the album down somewhat is, ironically considering the genre, the lack of bass! When the bass dropped in on Hold Your Colour,"
king DROPPED! However, the heavier parts on In Silico
such as the main riff of "Propane Nightmares,"
and the mid-section of "Midnight Runner"
are lacking a certain presence, which I feel could be remedied by an increased emphasis on the bass and drums.
Overall, In Silico
sees Pendulum undergoing a bold and brave reinvention, one which will see them both alienate old fans, and gain many new ones. What remains to be seen is where they go from here - in a SputnikMusic list I made a while ago (on the subject of "Collaborations I'd Like to See"), I threw out the idea of Pendulum
working with Devin Townsend
. At the time, this was merely a random idea I'd come up with, with very little basis in reality. However, as things stand now, it'd be interesting to see them work with a producer like Townsend - maybe his influence would bring the guitars and the heaviness of their older material to the forefront and successfully combine the impact of their old sound with the creativity and originally of In Silico
. As it stands, Pendulum
are in the middle of an interesting transformation, and In Silico
is a snapshot of their current form - a solid album, if a little bit uncertain of it's place - but nevertheless, an interesting document and certainly a worthwhile listen.