In the same way that Shackleton shied away from it, Mala isn't keen on calling his first extended solo work an album. Like the Skull Disco man, however, Mala has invited descriptions like the "a" word by deciding to spread his first release on the imprint in nearly three years out over three plates. It shouldn't be taken that way, though: Return II Space is only arranged that way because Mala is a vinyl lover. The six cuts are on three plates in order to get the loudest and cleanest sound possible.
Return II Space opens on a reflective tip with "Unexpected," which combines Mala's trademark stepping drums with cascading bass riffs and lilting cosmic melodies to great effect. It's a relaxed and dubwise introduction, unlike the other five tracks on the triple-pack, which all carry a feeling of dread and menace in some respect. The detuned lead synth on long-awaited dubplate "Eyez" sounds totally otherworldly, riding along atop locomotive hi-hats and halfstep snares before a series of drifting spooky pads get introduced, and "Pop Pop Epic" stumbles along with its "soul-jah" chant as if it's soundtracking a military funeral in a John Carpenter film. Many complain about the mid-range wobble side of dubstep's tendency to bludgeon the ears with its aggressive and undulating oscillations, but Mala's music is the antithesis of the direction that modern popular dubstep has taken, creating real impact in a much more subtle and affecting way.
"Livin' Different" is yet another of Mala's dubplates that has been getting regular play in his sets over the past two years, its metallic reggae stabs, sustained organ and phased cosmic bleeps locking perfectly with its loose rocking groove. "Mountain Dread March" is also fairly old, first surfacing as one of the highlights of Skream's Watch the Ride mix from 2008, and eager fans will be glad to know that its fizzling intensity has been stretched out to over seven minutes. The title track of the release mines a similar aphotic stomp, with rounded plinking synths and melancholic strings percolating through the apocalyptic rhythm.
As with all of their previous releases, DMZ will be limiting the pressing of the record, inevitably driving Discogs and eBay profiteers to snap up multiple copies, so fans are advised to snap up a copy early to avoid inflated prices. People who've already pre-ordered it should take solace in the fact that all the hype about Return II Space is firmly justified, but those who haven't and fancy some deep and dark dubstep which is techy and percussive but retains a dubwise sensibility should definitely check it out.