Album Review: Massive Attack - Ritual Spirit

Album Reviews
02/21/2016
Gerrit Feenstra

"Voodoo in my blood is living" - that's how Young Fathers kick off the third track on Massive Attack's return to the scene after nearly six years away. And after all that time, Young Fathers aren't lying - the voodoo is still strong. Last time we saw them was 2010's fantastic Heligoland, their first record since 2003, bringing a refreshingly evergreen new chapter upon the band, exiting the trip-hop shadow of the 90s and facing future brilliantly. Forever a band to challenge mood, texture, and atmosphere, Massive Attack now return with Ritual Spirit, a four track offering of what's soon to come from a busy year on their part. As always, the release features an all-star cast of vocal prowess, and a battered landscape of dystopian brilliance that will make you question your production techniques all over again.

As long as they've existed, Massive Attack has been both a duo and a collective. 3D and Daddy G have always kept the door open to collaborators, and that open door policy has benefitted their finished product with every go round. Past the duo's inner sanctum, there's the room of veteran collaborators like Horace Andy and Neil Davidge, then there's the terrace where the star features rotate in and out. There was Tricky on Blue Lines, Tracey Thorn on Protection, Elizabeth Fraser on Mezzanine, Sinead O'Connor on 100th Window. Heligoland alone went all out with Tunde Adebimpe, Damon Albarn, Hope Sandoval, and Martina Topley-Bird. It's an all-star collective that somehow never comes of as presumptive or pretentious.

This being the case, the first thing you notice about Ritual Spirit is the absence of half the elite. Daddy G is absent from the new EP, as is heavy Heligoland contributor Neil Davidge. In his place writing and producing alongside 3D is Euan Dickinson, who also contributed to Heligoland and is more than comfortable around the strange and immersive world of Massive Attack. Also missing from the roster is roots reggae singer Horace Andy, who has shown up on every Massive Attack release since Mezzanine. But these absences shouldn't point to turmoil or doubt from fans - on the contrary, Ritual Spirit is only the first taste of quite a bit of new Massive Attack music to come this year, with the next release due out to be an EP completely led by Daddy G alone (furthermore, I wouldn't be surprised to see Andy pop up on this one, as the feel of the record will likely differ heavily from Ritual Spirit's darker aperture). Following the pair of EPs, the duo will release a proper LP with the two collaborating in tandem. It's an interesting roll-out for the band's first outing in six years, and if the rest is half as good as Ritual Spirit, then we are in for a real treat this year.

In its riveting 17 minutes, Ritual Spirit is nothing if not brutal. Each of its four tracks shines a different shade of darkness in a collection of shadows, each making its way down murky streets in its ow particularly off-kilter manner. The EP opens with "Dead Editors", led by Big Dada rapper Roots Manuva, who comes out the gates with a pummeling stream of conscious verse that floats over top of the bass-heavy cut like lightning. Last year, Roots sixth LP, Bleeds, dropped to much acclaim, featuring productions by the likes of Four Tet and continuing to put the underground rapper in a league of his own. Thus, he feels quite comfortable over the pulsating wonder of "Dead Editors". The constellations welcome his meandering thoughts as the five minute jam leaves you begging for more. The title track jumps off next, led by east London singer Azakel, heading into darker territory with an angelic flair.

As strong of an entrance as the first ten minutes are, the EP's last two tracks are where Massive Attack make it count. "Voodoo In My Blood" features Scottish hip-hop group Young Fathers on vocals! Seriously, if that isn't a match made in Heaven, I don't know what is. The skittering, explosive track finds Young Fathers right at home, embodying the frantic nature of the instrumental and bringing it to new levels of intensity ("Why does the blood always stick to your teeth?" is just one of several delicious hooks). Then, where "Voodoo" plays taste-maker with Scotland's hottest rising act, "Take You There" nods to the past for a Massive Attack classic. "Take You There" marks the return of London hip-hop artist Tricky, who we haven't seen on a 3D cut since Blue Lines. Where Blue Lines found them grooving and volleying back and forth over fairly lighthearted terrain, it's so fun hearing the two next to each other here, both playing wolf at the door on this seedy underbelly piano-driven burner. My only complaint is this: Ritual Spirit exits the screen leaving you wanting ten more tracks. Hopefully, we won't have to wait much longer for Daddy G's response to it and the full length coming thereafter. 2016 needs a lot more Massive Attack where this came from.

Ritual Spirit is out now. Grab it digitally, or pre-order the limited edition vinyl here. Also, check out the band's Fantom remix app now on the iPhone app store. Expect more Massive Attack later this year! With enough wishful thinking, maybe we'll even get a North American tour. Check their website for emerging details.

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