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REVIEW: Orbital – ‘Monsters Exist’ (ACP Recordings)


In a sentence:

Despite a clutch of classic Orbital moments, the Hartnoll brothers’ ninth studio effort ‘Monsters Exist’ isn’t quite as forward-thinking as we know them to be.

Belonging to the very highest echelon of British dance music artists during the Nineties with a dazzling run of five consecutive terrific albums, Orbital were unusual for their cohort insofar as they often used their platform to advocate for political change (despite almost all of their songs being instrumental). ‘The Girl With The Sun In Her Head’ was recorded entirely with solar-sourced electricity; environmental messages were carried on tracks like ‘Impact (The Earth Is Burning)’ and ‘Kein Trink Wasser’; and early single ‘Satan’ has been revived in their live shows to satirise neo-cons and demagogue politicians. The phrase Monsters Exist was one of many to flash up momentarily on-screen during the video for classic 1996 single ‘The Box’ – 22 years later, it’s a fitting title for their ninth studio album and first in six years, in a time of mass political upheaval and fear.

Brilliant first single ‘Tiny Foldable Cities’ contained everything that’s made the Hartnoll brothers so beloved over the years – displaying ingenuity and intricacy in the methods of construction, yet retaining their accessibility with catchy hooks – and half of the rest of Monsters Exist delivers handsomely on its promise. Its opening title track sees fear and paranoia expressed in dramatic, cinematic terms while sonically parodying the 2010s EDM scene. ‘The Raid’ takes movie dialogue samples and arranges them to make ominous references regarding Brexit and populism (“do you know the price you’ll pay for this sort of thing?”).

It’s not all doom and gloom, however. Despite its title, standing for ‘Please Help United Kingdom’, ‘P.H.U.K.’ is a happy, bleep-laden carnival rave-up, and yet another fabulous choice for a single. For dance music to be political, medium and message don’t always have to align in order to hit hard. The clown-chortle rhythm on ‘Hoo Hoo Ha Ha’ is highly entertaining, despite being rather throwaway and innocuous.

Unfortunately, Orbital lose their way during the album’s often uninspired second half, making Monsters Exist a bit of a disappointment compared to where they left off with the extremely promising Wonky. Where that album took virtually every opportunity to look forward and bring contemporary dance techniques in the fold, Monsters Exist doesn’t adopt the same approach, and begins to seem a bit repetitive after a while. ‘Vision OnE’ is built on an unexceptional, straightforward house undercarriage, and could have come from any point in the last 30 years; ‘The End Is Nigh’ goes for the same apocalyptic tone as ‘Monsters Exist’ but isn’t as effective; and ‘Buried Deep Within’ is simply aimless.

Aside from a suitably meditative closer ‘There Will Come A Time’, featuring a brief lecture on the nature of existence by a certain Prof. Brian Cox, the entire second half is forgettable. It’s a great shame, as Monsters Exist does contain a good handful of moments of Orbital at their very best – intelligent, thought-provoking and tremendous fun – which are sure to become mainstays of their dazzling live performances. (6/10) (Ed Biggs)

Listen to Monsters Exist by Orbital here via Spotify, and tell us what you think below!

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