Before you even start listening to this CD – and particularly if you know XP8’s recent history – it is plainly obvious the band have some scores to settle. And indeed, perhaps they have – previous album HRS:MIN:SEC, while it had it’s moments, was a little derivative and at points, er, a bit soft.
All that is brushed away by the bruising opener Juggernaut, which is everything the previous album wasn’t: a pounding, writhing dancefloor monster with a sound that simply shimmers. This flows almost seemlessly into Our Time, which in some respects feels like a throwback to the previous album – but where there it might have fallen a little flat, here the beats are much harder, the vocals have that little more feeling…it simply works.
Download Me, an early version of which was released as a free download some months ago, is the only already-familiar track on the album and is still great. It’s strange, wheezing electronics and strange lyrics seemingly using the idea of downloading as an analogy for obsession are really rather clever, and work very well indeed (and while it sounds like XP8 in the main, parts of it remind of early Covenant in a good way).
After this, it is back to settling scores. The lush, sweeping sounds of Your Nature are underpinned by a rumbling beat, and bitter lyrics deconstruct the subject (quite clearly a person, and I’d perhaps be better off not speculating here on who that might be) of the song piece-by-piece that puts the listener in an uncomfortable postion of voyeur.
I.C.E. is something of a standout track, not least for it’s slower pace and guitars that weave in and out of the mix, but also for it’s state-of-the-world-address lyrics, in subject and aim something of a Headhunter for the new millenium. And in this scene, where political comment is becoming ever more rare, it is welcome to see. And did I mention how great a track it is? The faster-paced beats return again with Dead Sky (Still Lives Redux), which while a perfectly competent track, doesn’t really have much to it that makes we want to go back to it and listen to it again and again.
Much, much better is the seething title track, which picks up where Your Nature left off and continues to throw the punches, with the assistance of a number of well-placed V for Vendetta samples. Another cracking track that I would love to hear on the dancefloor – played loud this track sounds immense. Cracked suffers from the same problem that thematically-similar Bleed and Shout did – the clumsy lyrics dealing with sex. Otherwise, it’s a great track, it’s just the lyrics had me wincing once or twice.
Waiting invokes memories of trancey-club nights, at least to begin with, before we enter the headspace of someone yearning for a lost love, and it builds to a huge crescendo complete with stabbing synth lines before stopping dead and building from scratch again. After this six-minute breather (comedown?) from the dancefloor, Ready2Go drags you straight back into the heart of the packed dancefloor, and as the song surges forward you can’t help and get swept along by it’s rush. It’s bloody fantastic and probably the best thing XP8 have done yet.
Eklypse is a strange beast. In what feels like not quite 4/4 (the beats feel strangely…out of step?) it certainly sounds different, and is also less packed with effects than other tracks on the album to make it rather seem somewhat sparse in comparison. Although New Self keeps the surprises coming to the end. Introduced by an almost funereal orchestral sweep that sounds naggingly familiar, it appears to be another nakedly personal track that is perhaps somewhat cathartic in tone.
Cathartic, in fact, is perhaps a word that helps to sum up this album well. Lyrical subjects on the album are clearly influenced by recent events in the lives of the band members, but then also by what they see in the world around them – meaning that it isn’t just the band wallowing in self-pity. In fact, whatever has happened to them has instead had the opposite effect – galvanising them into making something considerably better than what went before.
A gigantic leap forward in every way, and a very welcome one at that.