After several years of sharing the stage with some of the heavy hitters of the industrial and underground alternative scene, Bradley Bills proves himself the heaviest of all with his tribally infused CHANT. Five years since Brave New Apocalypse, HYDRA presents the artist at the height of his prowess as a drummer, a songwriter, and a producer, crafting an album that comes the closest yet to capturing the percussive force and thematic intensity of a CHANT live show. From the opening sound of a distorted mechanical klaxon, “Urgency” gradually builds an atmosphere of foreboding and caution, the verses giving way to a pensive atmosphere accentuated by a soft drone that eventually erupts into explosive waves of noisy guitar akin to Nine Inch Nails a la The Fragile; the track feels like a precursor to a grand epic, and indeed HYDRA follows as a conceptual presentation of colorful characters and cautionary statements. We are introduced the titular “President God” and the hero who opposes him, each track building a satirical (or is it?) narrative of social and political unrest and eventual revolution.
“Love, Sex & Revolution” enters with a thrusting rhythm and pulsating layers of synths with the scathing chugs of guitar that recalls the slither and swagger of mid ‘90s Chemlab, while the strident beats and guttural percussive force of “Primetime Annihilation” and “President God” bear more of a late ‘80s WaxTrax! feel. The lyrics on these two tracks, along with “One Party System,” are all too palpable as they relate the mindset of a political demagogue whose fetishistic methods of divide and conquer, and satiation through entertainment and disinformation bear an all-too-striking similarity to… well, anyway. On the other hand, “Uprising” really emphasizes the album’s cinematic and conceptual tone, its marching croak of EBM bass and Bills’ hi-hats making for rather sinister feel that underscores melancholy, perhaps even bluesy piano melodies that do well to convey the lament of soldiers programmed to never question and a populace imprisoned by the illusion of freedom; this bleak ambience is accentuated by the steely shrieks and howls of guitar, all of which builds to an explosive instrumental climax. The same can be said of the closing “Epilogue,” the throb of bass, trickling pianos, and Bills’ emotive singing making for a melodious song in a state of constant yet seemingly calm motion. There is also the sleazy, almost pompous title track entering with the faint echoes of what might be a callback to the album’s opener, an ominous electronic pulse augmented by thunderous yet spare drum hits, the guitars like a chainsaw assault on the speakers as Bills snarls menacingly into the mic.
Listening to HYDRA, the considerable strides Bills has made as a musician and a producer are on full display, having written, recorded, and mixed the record entirely himself. With Myke Bingham providing his skills on bass, and the guitar textures of Alvin Melivin and especially Jack O’Hara Harris, it’s quite impressive the levels to which HYDRA has surpassed CHANT’s previous efforts in terms of musicality; as well, the cohesion of lyrical concept and thematic imagery makes for a lean and mean album that tells a compelling story from beginning to end, offering tracks that can be enjoyed individually, but are best taken in as chapters in the whole. Is HYDRA CHANT’s best record to date? Put simply, yes.