Dean Blunt Returns to Avant-Pop Directness on 'BLACK METAL 2'

Dean Blunt Returns to Avant-Pop Directness on 'BLACK METAL 2'
About halfway through BLACK METAL 2, some 30 seconds into "SEMTEX," Dean Blunt cranks up the delay on a single vocal line. The effect situates the listener, eschewing the cunning so often expected from the genre-shifting Blunt. There is no obfuscation here — when Blunt sings, "Here we are, back on the guitar," we are being told exactly what we're getting on BLACK METAL 2. On the album, Blunt and frequent guest vocalist Joanne Robertson float above the steady current of an avant-pop ensemble, leaning harder than ever into the "singer-songwriter" potential that lurked in the shadows of past Dean Blunt offerings.

In various groups (Hype Williams, Babyfather, Blue Iverson, etc.) and alone, Blunt is known for delivering a woozy blend of rock, hip-hop and electronica. But the kind of lyrical frankness and instrumental focus on display here makes it clear why BLACK METAL 2 was conceived as a sequel. 2014's Black Metal was by far the most taut of Blunt's releases, the more unsettling aspects of his patchwork songs smoothed out just enough to nearly resemble pop numbers. 

BLACK METAL 2 takes up that mantle of directness. Though the album coalesces around a core trio of Blunt, Robertson, and producer Giles Kwakeulati King-Ashong, key performances by a cast of London-based guitarists give BLACK METAL 2 its main musical identity. Tracks like "MUGU" and "DASH SNOW" are propelled forward by the swagger of the guitar and bass, the performances littered with enough flourishes to suggest a degree of looseness. The approach pays off, and the combination of Blunt's trademark dissociative delivery and the band's balladry gives their collective efforts a troubadour-like quality. 

The one drawback to BLACK METAL 2's consistency is that, unlike some of the best Blunt has to offer, this newest album hangs entirely amidst a cloud of malaise. Even with its run time of 20 minutes, this record can feel relentless in its despondency. There is no analogue to The Redeemer's "Imperial Gold" here, nothing approximating "12" off of Blunt and Inga Copeland's Black Is Beautiful, no cuts that evince a sense of romantic hope or ecstatic energy found on other Blunt releases.

That said, if BLACK METAL 2 is less Blunt-as-provocateur and more Blunt-as-storyteller, then both longtime fans and brand-new listeners owe him the opportunity to paint that morose picture in equal measure. Regardless of your familiarity with Blunt's music, you're bound to be rewarded. (Rough Trade)