CD, Hive Records, 2006
With this debut release from the British ESA (Electronic Substance Abuse) Hive records is supposedly “bringing the fucking beats back”. Luckily ESA are bringing a whole lot more and manage to find their own sound in the heavily over-subscribed Power Noise scene.
After the rickety sound-effects and mounting tension of the obligatory intro track, “Manipulating God”, the album kicks in with “Belief Conversion”. A repeated sample gives way to mid-tempo rhythms and beat patterns build up and overlay as the song progresses. Sharper percussive phrases then weave their way into the mix and so the song progresses, playing with these elements to cast a dark, hypnotic spell. So far, so typical – not unlike any of classic Ant Zen acts. As the song nears the two-thirds mark, fun things start to happen: slow synths fade in and take hold, pushing melody over the distortion while buried Asian voices bubble under, flipping the emotion of the song to lush powerful sadness. It’s where Manufactura meets Delerium to devastating effect.
The pattern is repeated on the next cut, the excellent “We All Know the World is Wrong” as piercing loop and multi-layered metallic rhythms gradually succumb to bubbling synths and sweet haunting sweeps with a beautiful eastern-inspired vocal and even a funky bass line for a few bars. Again, all elements come together to flesh out the typical powernoise tropes into something melodic and emotionally captivating.
After these stunning tracks, the album kicks the tempo up for a hard, fast mid-section that should light up any noise-floor. These songs, though definitely good DJ weapons, do not inspire the way the opening tracks did though they highlight ESA’s understanding that sometimes softening a sound up allows another to sound much harsher. These songs also confirm the suspicion that ESA has only one approach to song-structure – using repetition and multi-layering to create a hypnotic sound before flipping something on its head for the final minutes. It is a structure he shows a mastery of but it does begin to grate when the pay-offs do not match those of the earlier tracks.
The final third of the album brings the tempos right back down and brings the melody to the fore combining tribal-esque rhythms with choral sounds and dark synths like a cross between early Enigma and Monolith. Hypnotic as always, these songs intrigue but never quite hit the spot. A pounding mix by Scrape.dx closes the album while bringing it full circle stylistically.
Overall ESA have created a very interesting album that, while only partially satisfying, indicates they have the potential to outshine many of their peers. Definitely an act to follow.
— Christopher Fry