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The Black Dog - Liber Dogma

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Artist: The Black Dog

Album: Liber Dogma

Label: Soma

Review date: Apr. 18, 2012

U.K. techno team The Black Dog has been running for decades, but Liber Dogma sounds like guys who are fresh on the job. Ken Downie and Co.’s back catalog is full of cuts that jerk though minor keys and dark intervals, darker than most of their rave-era peers, but still with gurgle and chirps, the plasticine tone of techno. Liber Dogma holds back on that, and moves closer to both the sad electroballads of Darkstar and the dank chambers of Raime and Demdike Stare. It’s not that The Black Dog is catching up; more like the trio has converged with trends already headed in their direction.

The record falters in places, mostly in the first half. The opening flow of tracks certainly declares an intent: “Dark Wave Creeping,” “The Death ov the Black Sun,” “Steam Caliphate.” It’s not made up of standard-issue foreboding. What we get are glossy plinks, bright sounds dragged down and played sparsely. This dissection is like steel drums cut open to reveal they still contain crude oil. The contrast is interesting, and the idea makes sense — defining shadows with bright highlights. But the execution is low energy, and the combo of micro sounds and scant BPMs make it a slog.

After all that, a fog of ambient noise rolls in, and the beats pull in tight. At that point, the record becomes … involving. The black and white gives way to clouds of dark colors. The peak all-out-perfect track is "Hype Knot 7”; sandbag-heavy bass hits do a much better job of propping up the warbling. A few different melodies walk past each other, making sexy glances, yet never locking eyes. The song is a sigh stretched to short-story length.

“Hype Knot 7” is surrounded by faster numbers with the same filled-to-the-brim low end. The titles are less portentous, but they push their weight around. Those spangled tones work best when forced to cut through a claustrophobic haze.

By Ben Donnelly

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