An amazing 27 years since their inception in Romford, Essex, Underworld - Karl Hyde and Rick Smith - are still going strong and producing mend-bendingly good music. For men hitting 50, the duo have managed to constantly evolve and remain relevant while most trends and fads in dance music have come and gone. ‘Oblivion With Bells’ is no exception to this. Clearly influenced by the exciting sounds emanating from German techno clubs like Sven Vath’s mighty Cocoon, it’s an intelligent and astonishingly good record. In fact, so far into their career, Underworld have crafted one of their finest records to date.
We start the journey in familiar territory with lead single ‘Crocodile’; groove driven with a funky riff it showcasing Underworld’s unerring temptation to put Karl Hyde’s vocals through the effects machine and back again. But, the first inkling of the greatness of this record comes in the shape of ‘Beautiful Burnout.’ Lurching ominously on a fat bass line, it picks up pace thanks to its pulsing, almost tribal rhythm, as the duo generously add layers and layers of deep atmospherics that, clichés aside, push all the right buttons. Almost the twisted sister of their defining track ‘Rez’, it’s another momentous moment for the dance pioneers.
Thankfully, at no moment do they rest on their laurels or become samey - each song stamps its identity. ‘Holding The Moth’, for example, is all tough house beats before an soothing piano line juxtaposes the imposing vocals - a mish-mash of styles within one song and all the better for it. The aptly titled ‘To Heal’ is a swathe of soothing strings, before the confrontational ‘King Road’ ups the ante - Hyde nonchalantly delivering clever rhymes amidst crunching beats and flutters of flutes (well naturally). Never quite sure we’re going, the hypnotic ‘Glam Bucket’ misleadingly draws you into the more edgy realms.
Laying off the pace slightly at all the moments, the disorientating, sparse sounds of ‘Cuddle Bunny vs. Celtic Images’, leads into the heavily vocodered ‘Faxed Invention’ where Hyde spouts nonsensical words amidst German-tinged electronic hooks and an obligatory church organ finale. Quite how they deliver a tune that is just Hyde (singing highly emotively), a piano and cello strings next is beyond us, but with ‘Good Morning Cockerel’ they somehow pull it off, before the finale of 'Best Mamgu Ever' takes us down wonky Balearic avenues.
A triumphant return that solidifies Underworld's status as dance music royalty.