Aleksei Egorchenkov is a fantastic producer, there's no doubting that. The Russian artist has been responsible for some of the hardest-hitting cuts in drum & bass since signing to Critical in 2011. The likes of "Cracker" and "Stonehead" were taut anthems that found their power in tension instead of brute force. So how would that translate as an album? Critical's sole experiment with the format was Sabre's heavily conceptual A Wandering Journal, which succeeded largely because it was designed as a full-length. Machines, for better or worse, forgoes that and instead offers up a few handfuls of bangers. Is there ever too much of a good thing?
Machines makes me wonder if there is. Things start out swimmingly with the title track, an archetypal Enei tune: slicing drums hang above a flurry of low-end, with a slight bit of hand percussion at the end of each bar. It's a little flourish that goes a long way. Nearly every track has that little something or other to set it apart—the distorted drums on "Centrifuge," the tightly-squeezed vocal and bleepy accents of "I Don't Know" or the organic-sounding drum taps on "Thin Line." Just applying variations on a theme isn't terribly ambitious, however, and those intriguing little details get lost in the pulverizing blur. One might expect that from a producer with a reputation for straight-up club tracks, but it doesn't make it any easier to swallow.
The closest Egorchenkov comes to a shift in mood is the vocal track "Runnin," with an uncharacteristic drum break which blatantly jacks SpectraSoul's recent moves into poppier territory. DRS sounds as ferocious as ever on one of the album's most militant jams, "The Moment," which comes early on before the fatigue sets in. The last stretch is a slog, with an unnecessary VIP version of "Cracker" which fails to improve on the instant-classic original, ending on the same (one-)note Machines began with via the twitchy steamroller "Trainchaser." Again, it's a hell of a banger—but with 11 preceding it, your mileage (and patience) may vary.
The digital version of the album comes with bonus tracks, including a house tune featuring vocalist Georgia Yates. It's almost jarring, considering that digital exclusives are usually saved for blasé b-sides or lazy leftovers. Not this one. Enei's sound translates surprisingly well to house, with a naturally soulful but still bottom-heavy feel enhanced by Yates' equally tasteful performance. It would have provided that much needed variety on the album, and it's enough to make one fantasize about how capable Egorchenkov is outside the drum & bass box he occupies for the entirety of Machines. There's not a weak track in sight, but sometimes it takes more than that to make an exciting album.