ARTIST: MASSIVE ATTACK+ ALBUM: RITUAL SPIRIT EP+ LABEL: Virgin/EMI + RELEASED: JAN 29, 2016
In the early 90s, the holy trinity of trip-hop was Portishead, Massive Attack, and Tricky. Portishead have driven beyond the genre boundaries they outlined on their debut album, Dummy, where Tricky has continued down his own singular path. Massive Attack does an album every 6 or 7 years with various results. Frankly, the work between Mezzanine and Heligoland never really grabbed me. That said, I was nearly jumping up and down two-minutes into the opening track on this EP. Right away, the sound seemed closer to the dark and majestic soundscapes of Mezzanine than the somewhat more minimal approach on Heligoland. What’s more, Tricky’s back! Following last weeks release of his Skilled Mechanics album, Tricky pops up here on the EPs closing track, truly fitting like a glove, just as it was on 1994s Protection. The four songs here are produced by Robert “3D” Del Naja and a second EP produced by Grant “Daddy G” Marshall is set to follow. A full-length release before the end of 2016 is also said to be in the works.
There’s something about these four songs that seem to recall the 90s era of Massive Attack. And that’s not just because our man Tricky makes an appearance. The opening pulse of a synthesizers and the sound of a heart monitor open the lead track, “Dead Editors.” Featuring Roots Manuva and a minimal, ambient, and throbbing bassline, this track is what immediately recalled Mezzanine in my mind. However, it’s by no means a throwback. Everything that came before his harnessed here with renewed inspiration. “Dead Editors” is a dance track, no doubt. But, it has a meditative quality that makes it more than just a rump-shaker. The second song, “Ritual Spirit,” features the silky vocals of East London’s Azekel. His vocals fit perfectly here as they glide against the kinetic beats and droning synths that drive the song forward. This is my favorite song of the EP and it hits like an instant classic. If there were to be a Massive Attack greatest hits album released tomorrow, “Ritual Spirit” would have to be included.
“Voodoo in My Blood,” featuring the Young Fathers, is the most artsy and self-indulgent of the batch, and I mean that in the best way possible. Vocals, drums and 3D’s cornucopia of sounds slowly build to a thick tension that never lets up. What sounds like an organ pumps like an alarm beneath the chants of the Young Fathers. Tricky’s track “Take it There” also gives my brain a mental throwback to the early 90s. The song sounds like it could’ve fit on Pre-Millenium Tension. A slow beat, a mindless and deliberate piano, and Trix’s sleepy, gravel-throated vocals mix here like it was the song Massive Attack could’ve done with Mr. Thaws 10-15-20 years ago. This song is really great, and while it takes you back to the good ol’ days, this is a new song and it sounds fresh. It sounds exciting, in fact.
If you’re a Massive Attack fan do not hesitate to buy this EP. What’s offered here makes this reviewer confident that the follow-up EP produced by Marshall will be equally good. If you want to get completely submerged in the experience, download the bands Fantom app where it will create remixes of the EP’s tracks based on time of day, movement, or your heartbeat. Every once in a while great artists come along and remind us why they’re so great. These mere four songs remind us Massive Attack is still a force to be reckoned with, in case you ever doubted it.
– J. Kevin Lynch