MUSIC REVIEW by Tom Jennings (taken from Freedom, March 2012)
The War on Terra
This superb hip-hop set from Newcastle’s finest trumps their accomplished debut Small Axe (reviewed in Freedom, 17th January 2009), which evoked Bob Marley’s David and Goliath metaphor while hinting at humility against the grandiose grains both of rap’s trademark arrogance and MCs Nobull and Drop Dead Fred’s ideological ferocity.
The War On Terra similarly cuts and scratches potentially conflicting components and worldviews, with overarching lyrical themes of class struggle and economic domination integrating different dimensions of oppression as well as environmental degradation in a powerful melange of agitated agitprop. The beats from Mr Blazey (and collaborators Joonipah, Shangxi, Steady, Bertie Buster, Professor Ojo, and Truescribe) have progressed too. Previous artful dodges and rousing developments of VT’s influences now morph into mellower sonics (reminiscent, to my ears, of the high points of New York production styles) which are as sophisticated as the most imaginative and innovative UK new-school maestros. Diverse samples, rhythms and moods fashioned to suit and synergise the spoken word thereby seamlessly incorporate drum-and-bass and dubstep nuances and Latin, Caribbean and African flavours without ever disrupting the flow.
Deterritorial Attack Group
Most gratifyingly, the rhetoric permeating the album weaves anarchistic left-communist sensitivities into local and global subject matter with sharp contemporary specificity and acute historical abstraction – avoiding misconceptions of wishy-washy trendy-leftism or the shallow streetwise pretensions of so many so-called ‘conscious’ rappers. The unifying military/militant concept implies a dialectic of reproduction against the blind productivism of capitalism and classical Marxism – a trajectory which can transcend deep ecology’s mystical primitivism as well as the comparably baleful conspiratorial reifications underlying fashionable 99%-liberalism and the menaces of Leninist manipulation. Thus, when it counts – whether in righteous invective against the hi-jinks of high-finance and its parliamentary poodles, elaborating on lower-class riotous rage and the mediated reign of the commodity, or lambasting the multiply precarious dead-ends neoliberalism intends for us all – VT unerringly assume grass-roots libertarian positions advocating solidaristic direct action in resistance by all means necessary.
Profundity is consistently delivered without dry analytic patronisation, in immensely skilful wordplay and condensed wit aided by London MCs Akala, Efeks and Cyclonious, Rick Fury of the North-East’s Dialect crew and, most notably, the legendary Revolutionary But Gangsta Stic.man of Dead Prez whose relaxed conversational cadence on the title track encapsulates the art of saying less while meaning more. The guests furnish further tonal variation recalling the collective genius of hip-hop’s cultural heritage – blending different poetic registers in embodying mass experience to entertain, energise and speak truth to power. The full armoury would prioritise first-person storytelling with greater deployment of proletarian humour, sentimentality and spirituality amongst the blistering barrages of educational anger and cogency – politics emerging from the whole mess of life, not just heightened awareness. But only so much fits into fifteen tracks – and anyway, for sheer breadth of coverage, depth of heartfelt insight, vocal dexterity and passionate musical intensity, The War On Terra is hard (-left) to (banging) beat.
* Get The War On Terra from http://verbalterrorists.bandcamp.com, with free download of anti-cuts anthem ‘No Ifs No Buts’.
This review was published in Freedom, March 2012