- Recently signing exclusivity deals with hot properties Icicle and Rockwell, DJ Friction's Shogun Audio imprint finds itself at the forefront of experimental and underground drum & bass. It's good timing for a compilation, then, and Way of the Warrior lives up to the considerable promise of recent Shogun releases. Don't let the militaristic title fool you: for the most part, the music on Warrior is as melodic, restrained and even gentle as the best of the label's latest output. Even harder moments like Friction's "Jupiter" are still bevelled to a sheen, and mixed with material like Spectrasoul's soulful piano-tinkler "The Gift" and D-Bridge's R&B-n-bass "Since We've Been Apart," it provides a comprehensive overview of a label whose onus lies in impressively silky rollers.
I intimated that Rockwell and Icicle were the label's highlights, and they don't disappoint here: Icicle's "Alien Groove" is the kind of sleek but hard-hitting drum & bass he perfected on Under the Ice, while his collaboration with Distance is a welcome repeat of his tonnes-heavy dubstep experiments last year. Rockwell, meanwhile, shows new sides to his personality: his Phace collaboration "Rat Race" is far grubbier than the diamond-sharp percussive science he's made his name on, and "4U" is positively lush, coating his precision in warm jets of funk. Unusual collaboration is another theme on Warrior, whether it's the dream team of Alix Perez, Rockwell & Spectrasoul on "Montpelier"—recalling Photek's smooth Solaris soul—or the closing duo of Icicle & Commix, who deliver on the promise of a track with a title like "Ultra Clean" with a sterling silver workout.
With names like these and "fiftieth release" baggage to boot, Warrior sets itself up to be a big deal, and it certainly qualifies. But perhaps what's most appealing is that these tunes, with some notable exceptions, just sound like more solid tracks from one hell of a strong roster. There's no pretense, no bullshit and none of the odds-and-sods leftovers that usually pockmark compilations like this. Each producer feels like they're giving their best—or going beyond. Like Hotflush's Back and 4th, it shows a label confirming what makes it great and boldly moving forward at the same time. Again and again we get variants on drum & bass that steer clear of both the mainstream's midrange-heavy noise and the stuffy minimalism of the purists. There's been a lot of talk about a drum & bass revival, but it's largely been achieved through appeals to outsiders (e.g. Autonomic). Way of the Warrior shows that it's possible to do so from the inside.
01. SpectraSoul - The Gift
02. Foreign Concept & Bringa - Cemetery
03. Icicle - Alien Groove
04. D-Bridge - Since We've Been Apart
05. Friction & K Tee - Jupiter
06. Phace & Rockwell - Rat Race
07. Break - Trying
08. Alix Perez, Rockwell & SpectraSoul feat. Anthony Moriah - Montpellier
09. Icicle & Distance - Exhale
10. Alix Perez - Exemption
11. Rockwell - 4U
12. Icicle & Commix - Ultra Clean