The Bug – ‘Angels & Devils’ (Ninja Tune)

It’s been a long time since The Bug’s last album ‘London Zoo’ came along, flipping a series of UK dance trademarks on their head and leaving a fantastic piece of work behind. Six years is a long time to leave things, particularly in music, but that’s not to say Kevin Martin has kept his alias hidden away; we’ve been entertained by EPs during the gap and the music he’s been busy with as King Midas Sound. This follow up has been looked forward to by many, and The Bug’s new album Angels & Devils rises to the task of following on from where London Zoo left things in 2008.

Fans of The Bug’s menacing aesthetic on London Zoo won’t be disappointed, as the middle-finger-up attitude is back in full force on the new full length. Tracks like ‘Skeng’ and ‘Poison Dart’ have caused all sorts of trouble in dances over the years, and so it is nice to hear Angels & Devils begin slightly more subdued. This lighter touch is the ‘angels’ side of the album, which is split into two juxtaposing light and dark sides. It all kicks of with ‘Void’, a dreamy track soaked under Liz Harris’ (Grouper) washed out vocals. As they fade away, it seems like The Bug’s sting has disappeared, for the moment at least.

One of my favourite moments on London Zoo was ‘You and Me’, one of the less venomous moments on the album. This delicate side of The Bug has returned with newfound presence, and as the album continues into ‘Fall’ and ‘Ascension’, there seems to be some cross-over inspiration from the King Midas Project material Martin has been working on in recent years. But while this ‘angelic’ side moves forward, something sinister lurks in the shadows. Martin has been experimenting with dark soundscapes as The Bug since Tapping the Conversation in 1997 (not to mention other projects before and alongside this). This fascination materialises perfectly in the instrumental Pandi, where organs drone and distort, crescendoing through ‘Save Me’ until the devil is finally released in ‘The One’.

London Zoo collaborator Flowdan returns, counting in just as he started ‘Skeng’. The violent and unforgiving side of The Bug is back in full throttle as huge bass hits and marching snares crash into the mix like explosions and gunfire. Flowdan’s fellow Roll Deep affiliate Manga joins the party on ‘Function’, stopping and starting, refusing to settle under fanfare blasts. The Bug’s vocal collaborations always seem well thoughtfully selected; Death Grip’s MC Ride appearance on ‘Fuck a Bitch’ come as a surprise but works well alongside the other vocalists.

‘Fat Mac’ takes the album into its darkest moment, with static guitars and hollow percussion asking to be filled by a dread that only Flowdan can provide. Considering the album is split into opposing halves, the decision to end it all on an entirely different note than it started seems fitting. ‘Void’ lured us gently in with a false sense of tranquillity, and ‘Dirty’ finishes abruptly after three minutes of screwface fire, leaving us to catch our breathe behind.

London Zoo deserves the high regard that it is held in, but Angels and Devils raises the bar even further as an extended musical piece. Martin has succeeded in portraying the extremes in shade from his previous works, neatly placed side by side. The album’s two identities subtly intertwine throughout to create a sophisticated cohesion that edges it over London Zoo…. Whether or not its cohort of vocalists will have left behind anything that will have a legacy as powerful as ‘Skeng’ or ‘Poison Dart’, only time will tell – but as an album, Angels and Devils will be up there with London Zoo for a long time.

Jonathan Bennett

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