22nd July 2014 – Pavement Entertainment
01. No Turning Back
02. Lost In Babylon
03. Jump The Fence
04. Too Many Games
05. No Tomorrow
06. Let It Rain
07. One More Body
08. Never Alone
09. The Gateway
10. Pass That Love
11. Nowhere To Go
12. Hold On
You can never really tell which bands are going to stick it out for the long haul. Of the countless bands that comprised the explosion of rap-metal in the nineties, few would have expected (hed) p.e. to be releasing their ninth studio album, Evolution, some seventeen years after their explosive self-titled debut.
To these ears at least, that 1997 debut and 2000′s follow-up Broke rank amongst the finest, most complete and organic hybrids of the two composite styles; but however thrilling those albums were – and still are, to an extent – the dramatic backlash against all things ‘nu’ in the early noughties was not kind to the band. Attempts to change direction yielded, at best, mixed results and problems were compounded by an almost constantly changing line-up.
Now, vocalist Jared and bassist Mawk are the only original members still in place, with as many as six individuals having sat on the drumstool, and almost as many guitarists having come and gone. Although originally a six piece, the current incarnation sees – with the long-standing trend for pseudonyms still intact – Jaxon handling guitars on his own, and Trauma behind the kit. Long-term member DJ Product has presumably been replaced by a laptop.
By the time 2010′s Truth Rising was released, the band had descended into a frankly embarrassing caricature of themselves, half-baked in pretty much every sense you can imagine. Perhaps this is what prompted the longest gap between recording for the band, leaving it the best part of four years before Evolution.
In the interim, (hed)p.e. seem to have done a considerable amount of growing up and chilling out. Perhaps emboldened by the fact that rap-metal is not quite the dirty word it had become any more, Evolution does represent a certain degree of returning to their roots. Whilst there is still clearly a fire within them, and Jared in particular, it burns with a softer glow. The paranoiac ranting about the New World Order and other conspiracy related nonsense has at least taken a back seat, and the music is a lot less spiky, taking more soulful and dubby cues from the likes of Fishbone or Skindred.
This change of pace is a bit of a double-edged sword though, with some tracks feeling rather ponderous and ploddy. At least a couple of tracks – like “Jump The Fence” – would probably have benefited from a slightly higher BPM – but when it works, it does so surprisingly well. Evolution is without doubt the best album to come from the band in some considerable time, even if – brutally – they couldn’t have gotten much worse without becoming a total laughing stock.
Unusually, Evolution seems to get better as it progresses, with the later songs being more interesting than the earlier ones. “One More Body” is probably the highlight of the record, with a bass heavy riff that suits its pacing, and Jared’s rhyming skills placing him a cut above many MCs currently spitting verses over downtuned guitars.
But it is in the final quarter of the album that we really see some real evidence of Evolution, almost dispensing with the rock entirely and venturing in a remarkably credible fashion into languid reggae territory. The band seem to have really struck on something here, and these last tracks do go some way towards making up from the more lacklustre moments earlier on.
It’s taken (hed)p.e. longer than the entire careers of the majority of bands to do it, but with Evolution they finally seem to have grown up. Whilst the evolutionary process may not yet be complete, there are enough encouraging signs in the album to suggest that this could be the start of a whole new lease of life for a band that has, against all odds, refused to throw in the towel.