Music Review: NERO - Between II Worlds
NERO - BETWEEN II WORLDS
Virgin EMI Records
Released July 9, 2015
With the release of super single “Two Minds” on September 11, 2015 (no idea if that was an accident or not), I thought it was time to have a squiz at British electronic trio Nero’s second studio album. Starting up in London in 2004, Daniel Stephens and Joe Ray met while studying music and began making electronic music on their home computers together. They then took it to the next level setting up studio in Stephens’ bedroom shortly after.
They’ve come a long way since then. Joined by vocalist Alana Watson, to date they have gone on to produce two albums and collect a slew of awards, collaborating with the likes of dub-step maestro Skrillex and producing for Muse ('Follow Me').
Well known for their high concept albums they combine electronic and dubstep/drum & bass elements to fabricate an intense dance vibe, which combined with Watson’s haunting voice makes for a moody ambience. That both Stephens and Ray studied classical music and have a background in jazz, they generate a lot of emotional energy together.
For the uninitiated, dubstep, 2-step or just plain step music is a sub-genre of electronic dance music featuring syncopated drum and percussion patterns, with bass lines that contain prominent sub bass frequencies. It’s certainly not for everyone. Dating back to the late eighties it has been instrumental in the renaissance of the turntable and also utilises samplers and sequencers.
The first single to be released, “Satisfy” on May 13, 2014 starts off with Watson’s ethereal and intense breathy vocals, combined with synths leading to their signature musical build up only to drop you into an abyss of silence before the step kicks in. Not heavy on the dubstep like other similar bands, it’s more dancey and broody. There are however heavy grating guitars in there and the electronic bass has a distinct Daft Punk feel about it. You’re getting the opportunistic club vibe in the lyrics “I can feel it tonight” and “Let me satisfy”.
Included on the album is a reboot of “Into the Past” which appeared on the “The Great Gatsby” soundtrack in 2013. There is little change to the original version with the intense moody vocals, light foil-like drums and sweeping orchestral violins. Watson coos as the bass pounds and leads you to that silent drop again, before the orchestra draws you into a vortex where she says “I’ll follow you”, even though she “saw the sign of rust”. She then asks “is this going to be our end?”. It’s so full of obsession and longing it’s painful. It comes close to the immensity of “Innocence” from their previous album. This one will give you goose bumps.
Next to be released was “The Thrill” in February this year. It begins with heavy synth chords joined with similar bass/rhythms and echoing vocals. It’s a bouncy pop track about the end of a relationship. “This is the end of what was” and “it’s impossible to find the feeling we left behind”. It has a rather abrupt ending unlike their love. So if this was the end then “Circles” is the possible beginning of one never to be. She laments “we move in circles” and “we’re going nowhere”. Knowing they were tip-toeing around each other she says, “I tried not to like you” and “It lasted a day”. The music is light on step and heavy on synths.
As already mentioned, “Two Minds” was released September 11 and is getting a thorough flogging on the airways. Starting out with simple piano it evolves into hurried echoing vocals and thumping rhythms and bass. Clapping and chanting “I think you’re always in two minds”, this one, like many of the tracks shows how dicey new relationships are. “I’d still never really know if you cared” showing the lack of emotional risk taking and communication. “I told you too many times”.
“What does love mean?” is quite interesting in that it’s two strangers who randomly meet on a train and ask that very question; showing each other “this is what love means”. It has guitar riffs and violins to start with then the bass /rhythms kick in with phased vocals and layered harmonies. Bridged with violins laced with synths.
The title track is an instrumental. “Between Two Worlds” is an epic space-scape of a piece that reeks of The Electric Light Orchestra. Intense synths and pounding bass with one of the boys speaking echoes in the background. There is liberal use of snare drums and cymbals, although not clashing. After a quiet bridge it builds up like a rainstorm then explodes and dies off in a classical refrain. The rain continues into the next track, “Into the Night”. It’s a duet where they are both certainly not on the same page. He says “just get up and go, leave it all behind” and she cautiously comes back with “Let’s take it slow” and “wait another night”. They’re not hearing what the other says and believing what they want to. Train wreck waiting to happen. Quiet keys move away from the rain into the heavy bass with no real discernable drums. Discordant even. A little directionless, like this relationship. It ends with crashing waves.
“It Comes and it Goes” graces us with pulsating synths and Watson’s echoing coos morphing into an intense windstorm rising to fever pitch and trip hop rhythms. The bridge being the eye of the storm. It’s about opportunities. “It feels like the right time” and “it feels like we’re out of time” showing the pressure of FOMO (fear of missing out). Take the opportunity before it goes.
I think “Dark Skies” gives us a peek into the seedy side of life taking us on a “cruise in the fast lane” where there are “Dark skies and heavy rain, bright lights and cocaine”. It highlights the precariousness of this life-style in words such as “Don’t trust who you think you know” because cocaine makes you paranoid and the contradiction of “obey the rules” and “run these streets”; you can’t possibly do both. Monotonous male vocals spoken with light rhythms in the hook, and heavy synth build ups with light dubstep in the chorus. Capricious track all up.
We are hit with heavy intense synths first up in “Tonight” and tossed into the heaviest step of the album. The rhythms of the chorus are downright neck snapping like you’re being pulled back by an elastic band. Watson channelling a bit of Metric sings about desire, “I need this in my mind” and “I think I’ll go insane”. Maybe a bit of a rebound one night stand perhaps. “I lost tonight” and “Tonight we share all the things we might regret”, pulling all of the emotional risk taking missing from “Two Minds”.
The wind up track is a ballad of sorts. “Wasted” is a very sad regretful song with a soft synth intro with breathy echoing vocals. Heavy bass is blurred with piano vibrato. She pathetically laments “I don’t know what I am supposed to do”. “You’re with somebody else” and “you wasted my time” prove he never meant to be with her at all. The music fades out like his interest.
All up this album is everything that Nero fans have come to expect. Great dance music and clever knob-twiddling. Heavy on the intensity and moodiness and with all the breaking hearts it’s not big on the happy vibes. If intense is what you want you have it in spades here.
Some of their previous works have featured in movie soundtracks as already mentioned. “Into The Past” in “The Great Gatsby” (2013) as well as an instrumental version of “Follow Me” by Muse that they produced was featured in “World War Z” (2013). They are about to kick off a world tour next month performing in initially in France, UK and USA.
Their works to date are:
- Welcome Reality - 2011
- Between II Worlds - 2015