Dälek are perhaps more relevant now than they were in their heyday in the '00s. The group initially got attention for their noisy and intense brand of hip-hop that incorporated elements of drone, shoegaze and metal in an era when rap was moving towards mass commercialism, peaking with their acclaimed 2005 album Absence. On albums such as that one and From Filthy Tongue of Gods and Griots, producer Oktopus's experimental and genre-bending production formed a perfect balance with MC Dalek's rough and cynical lyricism that harkened back to '90s hip-hop, creating music that sounded like nothing else being made at the time.
Yet, it's now been years since then. Dälek went on hiatus in 2011 and returned in 2015, with new producer Mike Manteca replacing Oktopus on production duties. In the years since Dälek left and came back, new groups such as clipping. and Death Grips have pushed the boundaries of experimental and noisy hip-hop even further, to great success. The logical move for Dälek would be to capitalize on this trend by stretching their noise influences even further, but curiously, they seem to have done the opposite. On new record Endangered Philosophies, their first for Mike Patton's Ipecac Recordings since reuniting, they push the noise to the background in favour of a more ambient approach.
The record starts out promising with "Echoes Of…" which nails the dark, industrial sound and revolutionary lyrics of Dälek's best material, with the chorus name-checking figures like Martin Luther King, Malcolm X and Fred Hampton right out of the gate. But on the very next track, "Weapons," the production becomes quieter and dreamier, losing the noisiness and dirtiness that made Dälek so appealing in the first place.
This continues throughout most of the album, which exchanges the sharpness of Absence for the gentle breeze of a drone record. If the group increased the focus on MC Dalek's rapping as a trade-off that would be fair, yet for most of the record his vocals are given an oddly low priority in the mix. Even most of the seven-minute runtime of "A Collective Cancelled Thought" is dedicated to simple drone, with no rapping coming in until the last two minutes of the epic song.
For fans satisfied by a new Dälek album and nothing more, Endangered Philosophies scratches that itch, as even with underground hip-hop getting darker and weirder every year, there's still nothing that quite replicates their sound. However, Dälek got the following they did in part because of how willing they were to push boundaries and ignore genre conventions. With a history of purposefully defying every possible label, it's perhaps the ultimate irony that the rut they're stuck in is one of their own making. (Ipecac)