All the recent talk of drum & bass revival and renaissance, for whatever reason, usually fails to mention New Zealand outpost Samurai Music. Though the (now Berlin-based) label might not have Critical's cutthroat reputation or Shogun's robust family unit, it's broken exciting new talent like Tokyo Prose and FIS and released excellent material from veterans like ASC. On their fifth anniversary, the founder Presha releases his label's second compilation, an overwhelming two-disc affair. If Code of Honour aims to put Samurai on equal footing with its competitors, it's as convincing a case as they've ever made.
The second Way of the Samurai compilation casts its net so wide that it rises above its surface-level purpose of showcasing Presha's label and instead becomes a statement about drum & bass itself. For anyone who still associates the genre with close-minded traditionalism and unforgivingly technical programming, Code of Honour should set them straight from its very first seconds with Marcus Intalex's pristine "Redan." We're taken one-by-one through a dream roster of veterans and newcomers, with Loxy & Resound and Nymfo in particular delivering some of their strongest material in years.
The picture of drum & bass Code of Honour paints isn't as recklessly experimental as some of those on the outer fringes of the genre, but its success is in part because it shows how far you can go within its constraints. The compilation is a dream for DJs, and a boon for those brave enough to sit through the whole thing in one sitting. That being said, there are some surprises: uncharacteristically aggressive tracks from Sam KDC and ASC are highlights, while NZ neophyte Tokyo Prose steals the spotlight with his gorgeous R&B-flecked serenades.
That's not to mention the head-scratching, tripping-over-itself percussion of Mercy's "Blackjack" or the intricate clockwork of Overlook's "Glass"—that some of the best tracks come from lesser-knowns speaks to Presha's prowess as a talent spotter. Consequence filters down all the IDM tension he's been tormented by lately into a furious roller on "Noisy Spirits in this Soul," while Cern closes out the compilation with the grand "Apparition," which easily blows away anything on his solid 2011 LP, Terminus. Then there's underappreciated vet Klute's rather brash junglist rework of Tokyo Prose & Phil Tangent's "Parity"—I could go on and on, because unlike most compilations of this sort, there are no weak points, only smooth plateaus between daunting peaks.
The unusual consistency figures Code of Honour as a set of great tracks rather than an album. There's no narrative here, and there's not much of a flow to speak of. But compared to a few other similar compilations that have come out in recent years, this one sits somewhere near the top. For those still hungry for 170, lapsed fans and curious dilettantes alike, Code of Honour offers a whole lot of goodness, whether your preferred style is the harsh stuff or the beats that go soft at the edges.