:: Article

A History of Violence

By John Madera.


Dälek, Gutter Tactics, Ipecac Recordings 2009

Opening your album with Reverend Jeremiah Wright preaching isn’t going to endear you to Main Street, USA. On MC/ Producer Dälek’s Gutter Tactics’ first track ‘Blessed Are They Who Dash Your Baby’s Brains Against a Rock,’ the mic is passed to the preacher, who, against a basic backbeat and some kind of orchestral freakout, equates the United States’s vast record of imperialism to calculated acts of terrorism. He echoes a similar sentiment by Noam Chomsky who, in an interview in his book 9-11, states that “we should recognize that in much of the world the U.S. is regarded as a leading terrorist state, and with good reason.”

Wright was as much parodied as he was pilloried by the press for his arguably ill-timed message, but it’s hard to argue with his criticism of America’s history of violence and hypocrisy. ‘Blessed Are They Who Dash Your Baby’s Brains Against a Rock’ sets the tone for the rest of Gutter Tactics, an album where each song is a dense construction of industrial noise, relentless drones, and hypnotic grooves, with caustic lyrics raging against the various machines, namely the criminal injustice system, the military and prison industrial complexes, vampiric multinational corporations, etc.


The track ‘Who Medgar Evers Was’ begins and ends with guitars feeding back and all kinds of mechanized devolution. It’s a soundscape where nothing is safe from massive swathes of white noise. Imagine Lou Reed’s Metal Machine Music’s wall-of-sound smashing into the Bomb Squad’s surround-sound. The title track features a Glenn Branca-worthy maelstrom and grinding rhythms that swallow the listener within its menacing sonic vortices. The song’s mind-numbing refrain may be taken as a kind of musical manifesto. Emerging from the “tattered” streets, Dälek’s approach is “backed with mathematics,” where knowledge has been “subtracted,” producing a “tragic equation.” It’s a compelling approach where lyrical assonance plays against instrumental dissonance, where acts “cause havoc” and “words weave with static.”

‘We Lost Sight’ is a comparatively minimal track. Amidst a ringing guitar part that would fit comfortably on a Daniel Lanois production or something Brian Eno would tear apart, Dälek slings “volatile verbs” amidst “common words,” bemoaning how hip hop has lost its creativity, its political imperative, its sense of responsibility. The song eventually sucks the listener into a vacuum, but is eventually pulled out again by Dälek despairing that “we lost sight of how to use these mics, what scripts we write, how to choose our fights.”

Dälek and Producer Oktopus are recombinant technicians testing the limits of musical deconstruction, creating a sonic barrage set to the beat of machines freaking out while getting their freak on. This is after Judgment Day music. This is sludge rap. This is boom and doom Bap. Not since Public Enemy’s caterwaul of densely-layered samples has there been such a distinctive sound in hip hop music. Gutter Tactics’ innovations within the genre notwithstanding, the album remains moored to most of the form’s tropes. This listener wonders what will happen when lyrics are finally freed from rhyme, where syntactic and semantic experimentation is pushed to virtual incomprehensibility, where narrative and meaning is obscured and disposed of, where rhythms are freed from worn out Clyde Stubblefield beats, where seductive head-nodding beats are abandoned, where polyrhythms are explored, where leaden beats weigh everything down, where, perhaps, there is no discernible beat at all.


John Madera lives in New York City. His work has appeared in 3:AM Magazine, elimae, Bookslut, The Quarterly Conversation, New Pages, and forthcoming in The Diagram. You may find him at hitherandthithering waters, editing The Chapbook Review, and singing and playing guitar in Mother Flux.

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Wednesday, April 29th, 2009.