Like a lot of music from the ‘90s, trip hop seems like one of those genres that was once taken seriously but is now the butt of a joke. The same goes for grunge or nu metal. Admittedly, the ‘90s was a weird time for music and while some laugh at the genres as a whole, revered are the bands who gave birth to them. For grunge, it’s Nirvana. For nu metal, it’s Rage Against the Machine. And for trip hop it’s Massive Attack.
Massive Attack reached critical acclaim during the ‘90s with their highly successful album “Mezzanine,” whose lead single “Teardrop” was featured on the television show “House.” The band have also scored numerous films and documentaries such as “Unleashed” and “In Prison My Whole Life.” Founding members Robert “3D” Del Naja and Grant “Daddy G” Marshall have an affinity for incorporating other musicians into their work such as Damon Albarn, Sinéad O’Connor, and Horace Andy. Massive Attack have always boasted a nonconventional sound, often excluding choruses from their songs, and their latest four-song EP “Ritual Spirit” keeps with the tradition. “Ritual Spirit” offers less than 20 minutes of music but where it lacks in time it makes up for in production value.
“Ritual Spirit” opens with the distant ambient blips of “Dead Editors.” The ambience fools us into thinking what follows will be a soft, melancholy song but then a trance beat pounds through the pad and it’s like having a bad comedown in a dance club. Drones ignite from left to right while haunting vocals like the devil’s backup singers surround the track. Driving the song is English rapper Roots Manuva. He’s choppy and sluggish but he fits right in with the muddled nature of the track, swirling in and out of place.
The title track, “Ritual Spirit” feels like a B-side off of Massive Attack’s 2010 effort, “Heligoland.” The song rides on a simple guitar melody and a synthesized bass. The percussion is complex and dizzying but Azekel’s vocals help smooth the song out in to one of the more memorable tracks on the EP.
“Voodoo in My Blood” is the most diverse track. Scottish hip hop group Young Fathers begin the track with a chant while an electronic drum beat and percussion hold a tribal rhythm. Shortly after, a synthesizer breaks that rhythm and the song evolves into a pulsing beat. Massive Attack have never been afraid of repetition and, more often than not, they use it to their advantage to build tension, which they do here.
The final track and the album’s lead single “Take It There” features the return of Tricky who hasn’t been involved with a Massive Attack album since 1994’s “Protection.” Del Naja and Tricky share the vocals for the track. They both have oddly unique styles of rapping. It’s quiet and low, almost like talk-rapping, but they work well together, throwing verses back and forth that complement each other. The track is dark and jazzy, combining elements of hip hop and experimental rock.
“Ritual Spirit” is a promising return by a band that hasn’t made a full album in six years. The production is flawless and the content is strong and strange. Massive Attack have remained successful because of how much they can expand their musical interests without changing the core of what made them so successful in the first place. Del Naja has hinted at a second EP and a full-length LP, both untitled as of yet. Until then, you can catch Massive Attack on tour. Unless, of course, you live in America. Bummer.
For more information on Massive Attack visit: http://www.massiveattack.co.uk/