Sporadically thrilling though it is, The Qemists’ latest doesn’t break any new ground.
Paul Clarke 2010
They might have long left their own adolescence behind, but you certainly know whose side The Qemists would take in a household argument with parents bellowing “turn that racket down!” at their teenage kids. Not to mention on which side they’ve stuck their flags in the increasingly wide generational split happening in drum’n’bass. Whereas the likes of Instra:mental and Commix are reviving and reshaping the abstract and intelligent sounds of Photek, The Qemists have allied themselves firmly with the glowstick-wielding kids jumping up and down on any notion of maturity or melody with abandon.
The Brighton trio’s follow-up to 2009’s Join The Q album sets out their intent right from the start, with Take It Back featuring crushing guitar riffs, rave synths, a full-throttle breakbeat and the lyrics “it feels like the morning air / Is throwing ice picks in my face”. Words which aptly describe how this album sounds, but it’s not so much the lyrics as who’s shrieking them that’s most revealing about The Qemists’ mindset, provided as they are by rave/rock crossover merchants Enter Shikari. Nor are The Qemists’ former tour partners the only taste-baiting vocalists on Spirit in the System, since Apocalypse stars Rob Hawkins of The Automatic – another band more likely to inspire bemused head scratching than hedonistic head banging in anyone over the age of 16.
But it’s two other bands to whom The Qemists owe the biggest debt for first blueprinting their ear-shattering collision of drum’n’bass and hardcore (of both the rock and rave varieties). Pendulum and The Prodigy both hang heavily over Spirit in the System even if – despite dipping into electro-rap on Renegade and trance on Fading Halo – The Qemists are not quite as diverse as either. Of course, anyone who has heard those respective groups’ incoherent Immersion or Always Outnumbered, Never Outgunned LPs might think that’s a good thing. But despite restricting itself to only nine tracks of testosterone-drunk riffs and beats – thrilling though they can be – this collection can seem as stale as a teenage bedroom, something even Jenna G’s sweeter vocal on Hurt Less can’t quite dispel.
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