- It seemed like for a while there, drum & bass was well on its way to a critical revival with the advent of Autonomic and the feeling that new and interesting things could still happen at 170 beats per minute. Exit Records' mammoth Mosaic compilation last year showed the impressive breadth of the new movement, but since then, Autonomic stalwarts Instra:mental have gone electro, Consequence went weird, ASC is tackling every tempo he can and dBridge himself has gone oddly quiet. Following Consequence's fantastic but difficult Test Dream is drum & bass legend Loxy's album-length collaboration with Finnish producer Resound, and it frustratingly lacks the experimental spirit of recent Exit efforts.
Pertaining to Loxy's considerable pedigree, the production on Burning Shadows is meticulous, exact, the work of an expert: wide open and expansive in that paranoid film noir way that defines some of the best '00s drum & bass. Burning Shadows presents a potent strain of the dark stuff sure to whet the appetites of hooded, smoked-up ravers. The sound design aspect of the album wows early with the near beatless "Celestial March," which hints at a monstrous LFO drop without ever actually quite getting there, floating on pins and needles and setting up the next track to be an enormous burst of relief. Which never really comes. Instead, "Depth Excess" presents a perfunctory roller with all the power of a light rail train, locked into a simplistic path that feels devoid of momentum or even all that much motion in the first place. Instead, the devil's hidden in the deepest details, fetid post-industrial backdrops of strange effects, careful reverb and dread-inducing tones.
Lead single "Sin City" gives a good indication of the album's strengths, making something that sounds nasty and threatening without resorting to jump-up frat party devices, but it still feels entirely predictable. Even the album's careful soundscapes begin to wear over the course of the album: you can throw in all the sharp little drum fills you want on tracks like "Fall," but they still sound like cookie-cutter late-period drum & bass fare updated with a slightly broader outlook on the kind of sounds that can be acceptably incorporated (a welcome linger from Autonomic's brief reign): you've heard it all before, and a shiny new coat of gloss can only entertain for so long.
The album's closing moments bring a glint of hope, a fantastic downtempo rework of the duo's "Vertigo" from the Mosaic compilation: everything feels liquid and impermanent, a brilliant sense of freeform atmosphere accented by the slippery, offbeat drums. It takes what was a relatively standard (but lush) track and turns into something boldly experimental but not alienating. It's too bad you can't say the same for the rest of the album. Burning Shadows will likely be gobbled up by scene hardliners, but its familiarity factor and relative lack of adventure feels like a step backward for one of modern drum & bass's most consistently exciting labels.
01. Celestial March
02. Depth Excess
03. Part Human
04. Black Hole
07. Sin City
09. Conqueror X
11. Thin Ice
13. Vertigo Reprisal