- On the follow-up to his seminal 2014 album, the British artist sounds more confrontational, direct and hilarious than ever.
- When Dean Blunt released Black Metal in 2014, it cemented his transition from an elusive trickster who produced abstract electronic music into something resembling an indie rock crooner. Blunt explained the idea behind Black Metal in a Rinse FM interview: "It's the idea of how, in America, the Black man uses existing white images and claims them as his as a form of empowerment," he explained. "So Black code being 'I'm Black this, I'm Black that,' which is not actually really progressive. So this idea of racial progression is completely backwards because you're just appropriating something and calling it your own."
Of course, you could argue that Blunt himself has been a perpetuator of this same transgression. Nonetheless, across Black Metal, he drove his point home with samples and images of Americana, racial tropes pervasive in white American media and woeful lyrics that portrayed an overarching sense of isolation. The album was shockingly vulnerable, and quickly became one of his most treasured records.
Blunt has been teasing a sequel for some time, and the coveted day finally arrived last Friday with the sudden release of Black Metal 2, an equally outstanding LP hovering at around 23 minutes long. It continues the conversation started by its predecessor with a similar sound palette: sweeping strings, rosy guitar and (without liner notes) what we can only assume to be Joanne Robertson's otherworldly coos, paired with Blunt's baritone reckonings with a racist society's manifold let-downs.
Lyrically, there's a mournful bite to Blunt's observations. Stark, staccato strings on "VIGIL" set the tone for a regrettably familiar scene of a mother grieving a son whose life was lost to gun violence. Blunt faces the painful realization that, as a Black man, his fate could easily be the same: "She will never see her son again / I can / 'Cause no one's gonna save me."
The song "DASH SNOW" is named after the legendary Manhattan artist who was found naked in a bathtub after a fatal heroin overdose in 2009, but you could glean myriad meanings from it. Over lazy, sun-struck guitar, Blunt tries to convince himself that better days are ahead: "It's gonna be alright / Can't say it / You're gonna be alright." One might see it as a riposte to Kendrick Lamar's "Alright," which Blunt mentioned in his critique of protest culture during a Black Lives Matter UK roundtable with Boiler Room in 2016. When asked how Black people can unite amid the backdrop of virulent police brutality, he coolly responded, "I don't think marching and listening to Kendrick Lamar is going to solve it." In moments like these, the typically evasive artist is unusually forthright about how he believes his white audience perceives Blackness.
An arid rock melody takes center stage in "LA RAZA," where Blunt seems to play into the caricature of a Black criminal with nefarious motives. "Lie and cheat and steal," he jests in his half-singing voice. "Do you know the deal? / It's time you got to kill," he continues, as if speaking to a partner-in-crime experiencing sudden doubts.
The commentary extends to white critics, who in the past have been the victims of his famously outlandish interviews peppered with playful fibs and delirious trolling. In some particularly entertaining cases, these interviews have taken place over Skype's instant messenger service.
Blunt has described himself as someone with a creative "affliction," and as an artist whose talents transcend production into hilarious art-making and, more recently, film writing, it's easy to pin him down as someone with an insatiable desire to create. It's quite the unlucky position to be in though, when people, particularly the wrong kind of people, start paying attention. In "MUGU," he grapples with the dilemma of being a public-facing, successful Black artist. "And here comes a friend, didn't see you comin' in / With a couple Gs that I resent," his lo-fi vocals murmur with an oddly cheerful tone. "Somethin' light, got my city tight / And these crackers stay hype," he side-eyes, as guitar harmonies swirl and flower.
Somewhere in the shadows is "SEMTEX," where granular, hallucinogenic guitar loops remind me of Blunt's old Hype Williams performances, where he would perform cloaked in darkness, protected by smog. He notes the objectification he still experiences even when he's trying to hide: "And you lot / Just stop and stare / Forgot, 'cause nobody's got a care." It's a source of many interview questions that appear to be a nuisance to Blunt. When asked about his decision to perform in darkness, he once shot back in an interview with the Guardian, "Looks damn clear to me—clear as a Mac makeup counter." Black Metal 2 has all the elements that made its predecessor a masterpiece, with sentimental instrumentals and yearning vocals all packaged in a crinkly lo-fi setting. But Blunt has opened up even more on Black Metal 2, rasping his words with a smoldering fire, proving he's always had much to share behind that cool exterior.
03. DASH SNOW
06. LA RAZA
07. NIL BY MOUTH
10. the rot