Noise has long been nipping at the heels of hip-hop for decades, though only recently has that appetite for chaos and disorder been shared by a larger audience. Death Grips’ fanbase has spread like H5N1, while Run the Jewels’ boom-bap Thunderdome has grown to the point of allowing a prominent presidential candidate on their stage before wrecking it. And of course Kanye West has even dabbled in some particularly nasty sounds in recent years, most notably 2013’s Yeezus. The proliferation of noise rap in a post-millennial landscape has surely been encouraging for those who prefer their beats provided with a flip of pure menace, but one important question has lingered in all this time: Where has Dälek been?
The New Jersey noise-rap outfit never announced their break-up or hiatus, but emcee Dälek (Will Brooks) and producer Oktopus pursued new projects at the beginning of the decade, after issuing an impressive streak of albums such as 2005’s Absence and 2007’s Abandoned Language. Oktopus moved to Berlin and switched his focus to electronic sounds, while Brooks phased out the noise for a more straightforward hip-hop project, iconAclass. After a half-decade, Brooks realized he “missed the noise” and started up Dälek anew with a new set of collaborators—Mikey Manteca and DJ rEk—and on new album Asphalt for Eden, that noise has returned with a renewed potency.
Where Death Grips’ noise is relentlessly aggressive, or Kanye’s streamlined into an elegant sort of violence, Dälek’s approach is dense and overwhelming. They’ve long been more closely aligned to shoegaze than industrial EBM, and for that there’s a certain artful beauty in the static-scapes they mold. Even with the change in production personnel on Asphalt for Eden, their first for metal outpost Profound Lore, Dälek’s singular beat-laden din is unmistakable. Leadoff track “Shattered” is old-school boom-bap fed through a distortion pedal or three, whereas “Guaranteed Struggle” is an overbearing rain of sonic abrasion, Manteca’s claustrophobic canopy of noise nearly obscuring Brooks’ raspy verses. On “6dB,” Brooks removes himself altogether, letting Manteca’s harshly alluring groove do the talking.
For as much as Asphalt for Eden is a musical dystopia, there’s as much truth to power and bleak observation from the actual verbal messages on the record, whether it’s when Brooks faces down capitalist forces as “a fat motherfucker from a culture that’s malnourished” or in “Masked Laughter,” where the word “terrorism” is repeated on a loop. Subtlety isn’t necessarily Dälek’s primary mode of operation, so it’s a wonder that Mikey Manteca and DJ rEk so often turn their overdriven squalls into moments of grace. Cacophony is often an end in itself, but for Dälek it’s simply the medium.
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.