Here’s one record you can judge by its cover. The colossal sound on Legion of Two’s debut album Riffs is so ‘industrial’ you can almost trace the cables from those spindly pylons back to the turbine room of some imposing power plant. It sounds like metal, but it’s no head-banging power chord onslaught – rather it sounds like sheet metal being hit, scraped and battered into shape. It’s a cast iron album called Riffs without many conventional ‘riffs’, guitars or vocals. It’s also smeared in dubstep, glitchy electronica and visceral drone rock, and it might be the heaviest thing you’ll hear this year.
The plant workers are Decal producer Alan O’Boyle and percussionist David Lacey, big players on Dublin’s underground techno and improvised music scenes who fittingly unleashed Legion of Two at the Dublin Electronic Arts Festival last October. Since then, a few snatched MySpace live clips and tantalising song snippets have stirred up an online buzz – and they’ve delivered on the promise with an album that’s as dark and challenging as anything else on Planet Mu.
O’ Boyle’s trademark may be sleek electro and techno, but the shimmering cymbals, hissy feedback and rusty metallic whining on opening track ‘Intro (Starbound)’ is at once a serious departure from Decal’s floor fillers. It’s the pounding live drums and sampled percussion that hammer home Legion of Two’s mission statement though. Riffs is like Future Sound Of London’s Dead Cities after a nuclear holocaust, a rare electronic album with a coherent sonic theme – albeit one of dystopian urban decay.
The six-minute epic ‘And Now We Wait’ takes a corroded cityscape and concocts a wall of noise around rattling shutters, distant alarms, stabby rave motifs and malfunctioning electronics. ‘Palace (Dub)’ sounds like a rewired Blade Runner soundtrack if Vangelis lost the tender to Godflesh or Ministry; its breathy synth pad intro soon smothered in a molten lava bassline, seismic drums and claustrophobic 8-bit sci-fi loops. It also hints at ‘vocals’ buried in the mix, with twisted wailing that’s barely audible through a busted shortwave radio – ghosts in the machine, trapped under fizzling live wires and shards of scrap metal barely soldered together.
But it’s not all gravelly electro basslines and slabs of white noise. Delicate fractal synths act as pinholes of sunlight through acid rain clouds on ‘Legion of Two’, and the xylophone and woodblock effects on ‘Turning Point’ build up to a lush techno finale that Orbital would be proud of.
While the album as a whole is a slow, rumbling beast, the tempo drops even further after ‘(Interlude) ABC’, with its snatches of tinkering keys and a kid’s warped alphabet recital. There’s more space to breathe on Riffs‘ cavernous dubbed-out second half. ‘Handling Noise’ is a creaking shipwreck of a track, with echoes of metal barrels slamming against each other in the hold until it descends into a cacophony of drills and squalling woodwind. ‘It Really Does Take Time’ is a dark dub masterpiece, with its panning echo chamber effects, wobbly bassline and sonar bleeps. It also has one of the album’s few hummable ‘riffs’, a slithery low-end synth line that coils around a haunting vocal loop.
With nine tracks spanning an hour (three weigh in over the 10-minute mark), Riffs‘ triumph is its relentless sensory overload. It’s not zeroes and ones programmed by algorithms – there’s nothing virtual about Legion of Two’s sound. And as the final track ‘Cast Out Your Demons’ spirals off in a dense fog and wailing sirens, you realise Riffs hits the spot because it’s an electronic album with its live wires and short circuits still showing, a towering noise factory that’ll trap you once you clock in.
Buy it from Road Records.