A masterpiece of paranoia, atmospheric pressure and urban resilience, Angels and Devils conjures concrete echoes, water dripping from cracked drain pipes, damp, rust and alienation, all encapsulated within a groove deeper than contemporary social division.
Uncompromising in its grit, the absence of purity in Martin’s electronic dub tones feels sweaty, analogue, authentic, urban ; reminding us that beyond the fashion of gentrified compilations, dub came from the street. It’s not pretty but it is a real perspective of where we are.Pointed and forceful this is music that offers a transit pass directly into the heart of a world awoken to its own dystopia.
So what shade is Kevin Martin’s vision of the world?
Black. This is possibly one of the most intense and negative records ever made and ranks as an essential primer for anyone who considers themselves schooled in heavy music. Each track on this record combines overt brutality with a reserved brooding anger that raises hackles, until released by a succession of vocal performances that hit critically with every spit syllable.
Perhaps the most effective and malevolent performance here is given by Flowdan on ‘The One’. Itself an instant classic, the track easily demonstrates why Martin should be considered a historic dub producer whose unique vision is both respectful of past forms but also undeniably groundbreaking.
On slower tracks like ‘Save Me (feat. Gonjasufi)’ background static swirls like a smoggy mist over sweet strings, tender vocals, and sparse Bristol beats, whereas ‘Function (feat Manga)’ contains some of the most extreme syncopated beats ever recorded and, bouncing along with a pirate radio grime vibe, manages to give a rare moment of lightness and positivity to an otherwise inescapably dark record.
No filler and no repetition, memorable to the extreme and running with a cinematic musical narrative evoking blasted portraits of inner city hatred, Angels and Devils isn’t rumination on idealised city architecture but the disenfranchised prisoner lives buoyed and defiled by cross grain ideas of urban freedom. Through and through the city permeates the DNA of everything, each vocalist marks out their own territorial visions of the clauses within the social contract.
Vital, passionate, angry, violent, shattered, brief and, as Flowdan ably suggests, the morality is down, dirty, murky but with a heart racing pulse unstifled by even the hardest adversity.
Much like Adrian Sherwood before him, Kevin Martin has taken the roots of dub, defined it’s core as he feels it, and then expanded the palette around that basis. Over years that vision has evolved from a number of key test cases, a few public false starts, but in the main a seamless upward trend in quality matching Martin’s confidence, continued technical development and, perhaps most surprising to all: a wider appreciation from a broad and growing fanbase.
As in the genre-expanding work of China Mieville, Martin is offering us a rabbit hole through which we can view the weirdness of this era with a critical and encapsulating eye. Wildly imaginative, there are keys here for transmutation, from shit to shine, the album itself takes the worst and soars without resorting to anything inauthentic, trite or pretentious. In that sense it’s an unalloyed triumph.
Once notorious for being a dour bastard, a cursory image search in 2014 turns up several pictures of Kevin Martin smiling and looking healthy. While always talented, there is a comfort in the production of Angel and Devils that verges on contented polish. One feels that, whoever Martin is now, he’s easier on himself than before. What he proved with London Zoo he’s surpassed here, perhaps due to what London Zoo’s critical and public acclaim afforded.
This is man who knows he’s at the top of his game and has created a record that will be heard many decades from now. Not only a musical classic but perhaps even an important cultural document of inner city art.
Final word: Essential.
Editor, founder, fan.