Following cult classic London Zoo, Kevin Martin’s fourth full-length release as The Bug changes direction ever so slightly once again. The experimental dancehall of his previous output is mostly gone, and instead there’s more of a focus on atmospheric dub and grime-tinged aggression. It’s his most experimental record as The Bug, offering two noticeably different sides to his music. For those outside of the UK, it might sound somewhat alien, but for fans of the UK underground, it’s a gruffer, more refined version of what they’ve heard before.
For those familiar with The Bug’s production, Martin has a lot to live up to with Angels & Devils. 2008’s “Skeng” isn’t exactly a seminal track, but it should be. The dub and grime crossover was as hard as they come, with thudding production from Martin and Flowdan’s relentless rhymes hitting ruthlessly in tandem. While this album doesn’t have an equivalent to “Skeng”, it does live up to the expectations his fans have rightfully bestowed upon him.
Split into two distinct halves, Angels & Devils offers more diversity than any of Martin’s previous releases. It’s hard to critique the two worlds and their interrelation since they’re so different, but there’s a rhyme and reason to how the album flows from one half to the next. The first half, Angels, is filled with dubby atmospherics. It’s the more inviting portion of the record, but it’s not the most rewarding. Devils, on the other hand, comes across a lot more aggressive and suitably evil. Both halves serve their purpose, but the second is where Martin starts to show off.
The juxtaposition between the two halves isn’t initially severe, but switching from the first track of the album to the last can provide quite the shock. The aggression amps up following the Gonjasufi-featuring “Save Me” as the tone slowly dips toward vitriol. There are a lot of repeated sounds throughout both halves, but Martin understands how to avoid monotony, partially done through the wealth of strong features.
Of all the collaborations, “Fuck a Bitch”, one of the record’s highlights, might be the most notable: It’s Death Grips’ first, and possibly last, outside collaboration. MC Ride’s guttural yelps lend a lot to the proceedings, and he fits in surprisingly well alongside Manga’s and Flowdan’s more straightforward approaches (on “Function” and “Dirty”, respectively). Even the first half of the record has features that combine remarkably well with the lighter aspect of his sound. The opener, “Void”, features Grouper’s Liz Harris lending her spectral presence, and it doesn’t feel out of place in the slightest.
Sure, there are a few moments where the record doesn’t maintain the highs it reaches throughout, but it’s still a relatively enjoyable album front to back. Each track makes its presence essential to the record’s narrative, even if it’s not a memorable moment on its own. It’s a worthy follow-up to London Zoo and a fantastic introduction to Martin’s sound for those not in the know.
Essential Tracks: “Void” (feat. Liz Harris), “Fuck a Bitch” (feat. Death Grips), and “The One” (feat. Flowdan)