How do you review a compilation where every single track is a classic that all drum & bass enthusiasts worth their salt have witnessed being rewound dozens of times? Is further commentary on these classics needed? Or should it simply be limited to talk about the tracklist's arrangement, the selection and the (obvious) omissions?
It's hard to say. What I do know is that this is a compilation celebrating 15 years of the esteemed Metalheadz imprint. The label's early (and some would say glory) years represent the bulk of this album, with tracks from the middle years (1998-2002) conspicuously absent and a handful of recent additions to the Headz roster rounding things out.
First up is a Doc Scott track labeled "VIP Drums" (although the track featured is really "Drumz '95 (Nasty Habits Remix)" found on Meth015 and not the VIP mix from Meth001). It sets the tone and style for the release; this is drum & bass stripped to its basics; classic breaks chopped, spliced and dancing around a booming bassline. In similar beats and bass junglistic territory are Photek's "Consciousness," Dillinja's huge "Angels Fell" and J Majik's "Your Sound," all functional but smart jungle rollers from producers at the top of their game.
Other older tracks show Goldie's A&R talent when the imprint began. With "Pulp Fiction" Alex Reece brought the simple two step beat to drum & bass and forever altered its DNA. Wit the tune's steppy rhythms, sleazy bassline and the cheesy and synthetic but grabbing saxophone lines, it's no wonder it's still a staple in many a DJ's box. Doc Scott's "The Swarm" is an exercise in neurotic restraint, the funky bassline contrasting the imminent sense of dread of the buzzing synth pads. "Metropolis" by Adam F features similar themes; futurism, darkness and dread hinting at what was to come with the wave of tech-step and neurofunk in the late '90s. In "Metropolis" the different elements of the song engage in a weird call and response, from the distorted bass to the twisted soundscapes, from the ever changing breakbeats to the blatant Miles Davis samples, a strange sort of rapport is built, culminating in a powerful monster of a track.
The aforementioned tracks are from a moment in time when Metalheadz felt like a camp of like-minded artists, gathered around the label and the legendary club nights. The latter half, meanwhile, is the hall of fame portion. At a certain point, a release on Metalheadz became a career plateau, an indication that an artist had made it in the drum & bass community. As such there is less of a common thread or theme to be found in these tracks; they are more linear and more functional. Witness the anthemic but subtle "Universe" by Marcus Intalex and St. Files and "True Romance" by D Bridge and Vegas, as well as the ethereal Rufige Kru number "Beachdrifta." These tunes feel less like Metalheadz even though some of them are trying hard to be just that, exploiting familiar sound signifiers like the mentasms, pianos, breaks and rave sounds of yesteryear. "Up All Night" by John B, for instance, is a cheeky but solid execution of that theme while Total Science's "Defcon 69" is clichéd and overwrought.
That said, 15 Years of Metalheadz is an excellent collection of tracks. Nonetheless, choosing 15 tracks for 15 years seems like a futile exercise in self-control, best illustrated in some glaring omissions. Where are the hard, dark and deadly sounds of artists like Source Direct, Ed Rush, Optical and Digital? Why are there no lighter jazzy touches from acts like Hidden Agenda, Wax Doctor and Sci Clone? Oversights like these make this potentially great compilation merely a good one.
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Tracklist: Various Artists - 15 Years Of Metalheadz 01. Doc Scott - V.I.P. Drums
02. Dillinja - Angels Fell
03. J Majik - Your Sound
04. Alex Reece - Pulp Fiction
05. Photek - Consciousness
06. Lemon D - This Is LA
07. Doc Scott - Swarm
08. Adam F - Metropolis
09. Codename John - The Warning
10. Marcus Intalex & ST Files - Universe
11. Rufige Kru - Beachdrifta
12. John B - Up All Night
13. D Bridge & Vegas - True Romance
14. Total Science - Defcom 69
15. Commix - Be True
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