Machinecode: Samurai
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Swarm Intelligence: Faction
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Samurai finds Machinecode duo Tim Elliot (Current Value) and Dean Rodell following up their early 2014 set Velocity (issued on Rodell's own Subsistenz imprint) with another bruising drum'n'bass assault. But much like its predecessor, Samurai isn't a one-note affair; instead, the seventy-minute collection—the duo's fourth full-length under the Machinecode name—highlights the pair's ability to repeatedly stretch the genre form into unpredictable shapes.

Opening the album with a track declaratively titled “It's Time” hints at the confidence and assurance Elliot and Rodell bring to their collaborative venture, and the track's take-no-prisoners throb likewise conveys the punishing power of the music the two produce. The duo's superior skills as beatsmithers is well-accounted for in light-speed stormers like “Gatling,” where shouts of encouragement punctuate thunderous jungle patterns, and “Samurai,” which relentlessly roars with dystopic fervour.

But while there's no small amount of ferocity on display, there are departures as well. The sudden emergence of acoustic piano stylings halfway through the sci-fi cyclone that is “Wires,” for instance, nudges the material in the direction of jazz, while the verses spun by Underhill member MC Coppa on “Urban Drum” present Machinecode as a project amenable to other influences, hip-hop among them. In addition, the later “Headphone Eden” alternates between episodes of electro-fied grandeur and grinding, low-end breaks, and Berlin producer Huron caps the release with a suitably melancholy remix of “Requiem.”

Yes, Machinecode's attack is crushing and uncompromising, but it's artful and, in its own particular way, sophisticated, too. And while there's a level of technical command in play that's undeniably impressive, Samurai is finally more noteworthy for its compositional diversity than mere demonstrations of technique.

If Machinecode's music roars at a light-speed pitch, Simon Hayes' Swarm Intelligence material plods in a way that suggests the decimating trudge of a colossal beast. In the typical Faction track, the bass and kick drum collectively hit with the force of a detonating bomb while thick industrial textures lend the material a degree of menace and oppressiveness that verges on suffocating. The first full-length album from Hayes (an Irish musician now living in Berlin), Faction's beat-driven industrial cuts strike with all the subtlety of a slow-motion sledgehammer. Tracks seethe will viral purpose, their goal to seemingly induce nightmarish states in the cowed listener.

Even so, Faction does explore a moderately generous stylistic range within its self-circumscribed zone. There are both atmospheric tracks smeared with glitch-ridden details and coal-black, beat-heavy cuts seemingly intent on extinguishing all life forms within the immediate area. As an example, “Run Interference,” shifts the focus five tracks into the ten-track set from the album's plodding industrial style to a slightly more uptempo blend of industrial, techno, and IDM, while “Infiltration” does something much the same in jumpstarting an especially oppressive setpiece with an energized beat pattern.

If one sets aside the claustrophobic character of the material for a moment, a better appreciation for Hayes' sound design abilities comes into focus, and, based on the evidence provided, one could certainly make a strong pitch for Hayes' potential as a soundtrack composer. In fact, it requires little effort at all to imagine his music finding a natural home in horror films like Saw and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

January 2015