It’s been 39 years since Creation Rebel released a new album, but as the U.K. enacted some unconscionable policies in recent years against asylum seekers and citizens of Caribbean origin, the trio was clearly fired up for a blazing return. As the album’s social and historical context can be inferred from the title, Hostile Environment sees Crucial Tony, Eskimo Fox, and Mr. Magoo collaborating with Adrian Sherwood and a contingent of other musical warriors to address these injustices; the band may be based in London, but their hearts are firmly in the streets of their Jamaican homeland. Those familiar with the particular dynamics of dub/reggae likely won’t find much in the way of shock and awe here, the band preferring a more direct and measured approach that defined Creation Rebel as one of the leading voices in the sound more than four decades ago.
Of course, this isn’t to say that the group is devoid of nuance as tracks like “Stonebridge Warrior” and “Whatever It Takes” are given a bit of an R&B flavor thanks to a succulent horn section and the lovely backing vocals of Isha Bell on the latter track, lines like “Whatever it takes to be strong, pray that I hold on” resonating all too poignantly. Taking things in a more anxiously jazzy direction with angular bass and guitar lines are songs like “That’s More Like It” and “The Peoples’ Sound,” which pays tribute to the late sound system pioneer Daddy Vego, the lyric of “Catch the falling star” beautifully encompassing the original bass warrior’s legacy. Hostile Environment features some truly passionate vocal performances as Fox’s refrains of “They don’t know” capture a sense of pity for the cultural ignorance of those responsible for the ills of persistent colonial attitudes, but it is Prince Far I’s emotive voice on the opening “Swiftly (The Right One)” and “This Thinking Feeling” that stands out the most powerfully; 40 years after his murder, it’s only appropriate that Creation Rebel pay homage to the band’s mentor and friend, with Daddy Freddy’s fast chat style providing a gritty contrast that meshes well.
The vibrant organ touches of Cyrus Richards, the spirited percussion of Winston “Horseman” Williams, the fiery and occasionally eerie synths of Gaudi and more all add to the instrumental talent on display throughout Hostile Environment, demonstrating that even after such a long absence, Creation Rebel is as vital as ever. It may not be the most innovative take on dub, but it doesn’t have to be – the force of its message and atmospheric grooves strike just as fervently. Welcome back!