As Death Grips progress from one unpublicised release to another, the ‘experimental rap’ guise becomes less and less fitting for them. Birthed into the sounds of destructive noise instrumentals with an aggressive hip-hop overtone with their 2011 debut, Exmilitary, they have since shimmied between synthetic minimalism and the wall of noise aesthetic of hardcore punk. On their most recent release, double album The Powers That B, and particularly on its second half Jenny Death, that guitar-driven thickness reached fever pitch, with vocalist MC Ride’s performance more akin to a punk rant than a hip-hop flow. Reaching a peak in terms of abrasion and obtuseness, the group have harkened back to their mildly more accessible roots for this latest surprise album, Bottomless Pit. But don’t worry – it’s still Death Grips, it’s still ear splitting and it’s still unlike anything else in contemporary music in 2016.
Bottomless Pit sees the band combining two eras of the group’s sonic palette – the guitar-driven onslaught of The Powers That B and the synthetic squelches and in-your-face directness of their breakout album The Money Store. Album opener ‘Giving Bad People Good Ideas’ feels more like an epilogue to Jenny Death – it’s an industrial barrage of impossibly loud guitar that wouldn’t go amiss on a Ministry album. There are fewer of these guitar-led songs on Bottomless Pit, but the group continues to work with Nick Reinhart of Tera Melos and have done since their instrumental release, Fashion Week. Reinhart, who is well known for his experimentation with sound through the use of dozens of effect pedals, is responsible for some of the best cuts on the album, including another obliterating wall of fuzz on the album’s closing track.
For the most part though, Bottomless Pit feels more closely related to older work in their discography. On ‘Spikes’, MC Ride yells over the top of fast-paced glitches and synths more melodic than anything present on the past few albums. Later, on ‘BB Poison’, the rumbling bass and raw, acid synths feel like a throwback to old favourites such as ‘The Fever (Aye Aye)’ and ‘Hustle Bones’. The sounds present are still overpowering and enormous, but less demanding of the listener – instead, the sheer volume and density on these tracks somehow ends up being surprisingly simple and easy to digest. This compromise between abstraction and accessibility makes for one of the band’s best releases in recent years – the band retains their outsider mysticism, but regains a head banging catchiness they haven’t utilized since The Money Store and No Love Deep Web.
Lyrically, Ride continues to observe the modern horrors of 21st century American life like few other artists do. Through a spiel of tortured, ultra aggressive verses, Ride waxes lyrical mostly through the use of violent imagery – his intents and ideas are often jumbled, but the image of violence and malcontent are almost constantly present. In this regard, Bottomless Pit might actually be the band’s most attacking, as well as its most meta. ‘Eh’ is a wonderful change of pace mid-album – lyrically, it’s a reduction of celebrity and the whole cult of online music that Death Grips have commanded. The track uses a previously under-utilised subtlety in its instrumental, with understated jittering synths that wouldn’t feel out of place on a SOPHIE track, all the while deconstructing the empire of Reddit lurkers that have appraised their music to be that of the future of hip-hop – its all ‘Eh’ to them.
Headphone listens are blissful – the mixing and production is spotless throughout, and while vocals have always been under produced and may not appease everyone, it all adds to the aesthetic the band have spent years perfecting. It’s easy to be disillusioned by the reputation that precedes any new Death Grips press: concert no-shows, untimely disbandment and album leaks are all part of the image the trio have built a cult around, and while all of their releases have to some extent silenced the non-believers, Bottomless Pit proves to be a return for the band to their most enjoyable and punishing sound.