By the early 2000s, crossing rap and rock's respective DNA strands was no longer a bold experiment. From Faith No More and Shootyz Groove to Korn and 311, hip-hop had been hailing hardcore and metal and funk, and everything else, on an open radio frequency for a decade or more. But what about it? Sure, the sound was familiar to kids raised on equal parts Yo! MTV Raps and Headbangers Ball. But by 2003, homogeneousness was floating bad checks neither genre could cash. Into this big blasť world comes Babylon, the venom ...
By the early 2000s, crossing rap and rock's respective DNA strands was no longer a bold experiment. From Faith No More and Shootyz Groove to Korn and 311, hip-hop had been hailing hardcore and metal and funk, and everything else, on an open radio frequency for a decade or more. But what about it? Sure, the sound was familiar to kids raised on equal parts Yo! MTV Raps and Headbangers Ball. But by 2003, homogeneousness was floating bad checks neither genre could cash. Into this big blasť world comes Babylon, the venom-spitting, pit-baiting debut from Skindred. Emerging from the ashes of Dub War, Benji Webbe and company eschew that band's fetish for freely shifting sounds, in favor of a more focused ragga-rap-metal attack. It's not merely a facsimile of last year's money-making metal model. No, what little repetition does exist here comes from the dancehall influence, the harping and chatting over a nonstop groove. "Pressure" and "Nobody" rock ragged, near-atonal guitar riffs over percussion, emulating both the stop-start hesitation of drum'n'bass and metal's monolithic pound. As the guitars whine, Benji becomes a one-man vocal force, his flow twisting between trippy ragga phraseology and a grating thrash scream. Scratchy drum programming and some non-intrusive synths set up the silky, chatty verses of "Selector," before a skuzzy power slide breakdown energizes its air-raid marathon chorus. With all these stylistic tongues tittering at once, Babylon often threatens to topple over. What's amazing -- especially in the complacent rap-metal landscape it finds itself rampaging over -- is that it never does. Skindred doesn't seem to consciously want the reinvention tag; it has simply tapped into the same lack of pretension that fueled Korn and Living Colour's Vivid -- records that were made visionary by an unadulterated honesty in both delivery and craft. When the band does suggest the work of its peers, it's in the tense, Deftones-style interplay of mood and mayhem on "Falling Down" (where Benji unveils a soulful singing voice between the screams). Babylon has made a considerable dent in Europe, where the memories of Dub War might run deeper than they do stateside. Even so, Skindred's debut is highly recommended for fans of literate genre jumpers like Soulfly and System of a Down, or any heshers looking for some heavy-hitting firepower that hasn't fallen victim to the anvil of corporate assimilation. [In 2004 the band re-released Babylon in the U.S. on Lava Records. Their new label requested four new tracks, so the group holed up in a Florida studio and proceeded to record eight, resulting in the removal of three original tracks ("Falling Down," "Kiss and Make Up," and "Together") from this reissue. The new -- and confusing -- version includes a series of interludes featuring dancehall veterans Jatoman Busha and Herbius Darussalam, as well as three brand new cuts. The additional tracks range from lean and heavy (the brutal "Start First"), sunny and complex pop/dub ("Tears"), and downright epic (the 11-minute "Beginning of Sorrows.") All of the tracks are solid, but it would have been nice to see them put out on a separate EP as opposed to a dollop of gravy with the mashed potatoes removed on this genre-defying "Frankenstein" of a re-release.] ~ Johnny Loftus, Rovi
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