Drums Of Death
By: Eric Greenwood
Pretentious intellectualism can suck the fun right out of music in a hurry, and DJ Spooky has always straddled the line of pedantic condescension and envelope-pushing experimentalism. His collaborations are always intriguing, though, having worked with such diverse artists as Metallica, Dr. Octagon, Thurston Moore, Arto Lindsay, and Nick Cave in varying capacities, including remixer and beat artist.
Having been on New York’s DJ scene just over a decade, DJ Spooky is a meticulous turntablist first, and a musical theorist second. I saw him speak at a conference in New York in 1995 just as he was garnering attention for his early EP’s and singles, wherein he attributed equal stature to Led Zeppelin and Grand Master Flash. And while his melting
pot tastes run as deep as his knowledge for mind-bending musical philosophies, his artistic approach can be a tad scientific at times, though always attention grabbing and versatile.
His latest record for the experimental label Thirsty Ear, Drums of Death, draws in a kaleidoscopic cast of characters in its pursuit of jazz-infused, sample-heavy, hip-hop metal with Slayer drummer Dave Lombardo on the kit. Living Colour guitarist, Vernon Reid, provides the metal segues, which surge with virtuosic energy and technical aplomb, but it’s the presence of Public Enemy’s Chuck D that lends the album its hip-hop grounding, running through three new interpretations of Public Enemy staples like “Brother’s Gonna Work It Out” and “Public Enemy #1.”
Consistent with Spooky’s eclectic proclivities, Drums of Death tackles speed metal, hip-hop, ambient digressions and deconstructed funk with seamless precision. The band he has forged is ferocious in its own right and highly adaptable to Spooky’s (and producer Jack Dangers’) artier tangents. It’s uncomfortably diverse in its wide-reaching ambitiousness at first, but a few listens in and Drums of Death turns knee-jerk apprehension to admiration.