An astronaut, a filmmaker, and a drum’n’bass producer. It sounds like the setup to a joke, but these unlikely bedfellows were among the base ingredients of The Edge of Everything, the first new album in 14 years from Bristolian jungle/drum’n’bass legend Krust (perhaps best known as a member of Roni Size & Reprazent). As returns go, it is a suitably ostentatious one: Determined to create music that might reach beyond the confines of a Friday night out, Krust spent four years making the album amid a maelstrom of mood boards and meditation, pondering topics from space travel to Damian Hirst’s diamond-encrusted skull.
For listeners whose experience of drum’n’bass stretches little further than the industrial sturm und drang of the contemporary dancefloor, this might sound like an unnecessarily convoluted path for a genre that too often sacrifices innovation for sheer sonic oomph. But Krust has long been one of the style’s vanguardists, introducing jazz to jungle on 1994’s dreamy “Jazz Note” and pioneering the industrial-strength bassline stepper in 1997’s “Warhead,” which remains a sacred dancefloor text.
Confounding expectations and breaking boundaries are key to Krust’s work. At times The Edge of Everything feels like a massive game of bait and switch that plays merry havoc with our expectations of what drum’n’bass should be. A handful of songs—notably the excellent “Constructive Ambiguity” and “Deep Fields of Liars”—flirt with genre convention, thanks to their accelerated breaks and compulsive sub-bass. But Krust teases the listener with agonising pauses and don’t-look-in-that-cupboard! style dramatic silences, holding back the beat in a relentless orgy of suspense. Other songs, like “Negative Returns” and “Space Oddity” (very much not that one), initially bear the hallmarks of a 170 BPM roller, their charred synth lines barrelling along at a promising clip, only for Krust to upend our expectations with beats that sit closer to the distressed electro of early Autechre than jungle’s classic breaks.
Closing with a sampled testament to the transformative power of cinema, the outro to “Negative Returns” highlights one of the album’s key themes. Krust says that he was inspired by filmmakers such as Christopher Nolan and Martin Scorsese, and he created “Antigravity Love,” which follows “Negative Returns,” with help from director Michael Williams, who wrote a rambling monologue for the producer to build a track around. That this underwhelming collaboration adds up to less than the sum of its parts is symptomatic of an album that shoots for the fictive universe of film without quite landing. Krust’s intended narrative arc relies too heavily on the listener’s interpretation of song titles and the spoken-word passages scattered throughout the album’s 11 tracks.
But if The Edge of Everything isn’t quite cinema, it’s certainly cinematic, thanks to Krust’s masterful sonic design and a musical palette that nods to everything from 1930s horror flicks (the gothic organ drone on “Hegel Dialectic”) to the THX woosh of “Constructive Ambiguity.” If Michael Bay wasn’t so unimaginative, you could imagine the latter soundtracking a particularly stirring Transformers fight scene, liquid metal beats dancing a electric pasodoble as two robots pound the mechanical hell out of each other under expensively rendered nuclear rain.
There is a real elegance to Krust’s musical manipulations, a sort of gentle heaviness that weighs the steely tonnage of heavily processed synth against eerie ambience. And, if you won’t find yourself humming along to the melodies on The Edge of Everything, you will almost certainly discover a favourite sound. (I’ll take the strangled trumpet on “Hegel Dialectic.”) In this masterful precision, The Edge of Everything resembles the radically expansive work of cerebral drum’n’bass producers like Photek and 4Hero while nodding to Detroit techno in its dystopian sci-fi feel.
The Edge of Everything arrives at a moment where drum’n’bass is perched between two stools: hugely popular in its own rather inward-looking niche, and being cautiously revived by a new breed of music producers, from MoMA READY to India Jordan, who dabble at the edges of a junglist revival without jumping in headfirst. The Edge of Everything is perhaps too esoteric for either camp—a 5D rendering of the genre rather than a simple homage. But in calling back to concept-driven works like Goldie’s divisive Saturnz Return or the Japanese swordsmanship references of Photek’s Ni - Ten - Ichi - Ryu EP, The Edge of Everything proves that drum’n’bass can still wield an awesome experimental power as it enters its fifth decade.
Buy: Rough Trade
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