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Senser - Stacked Up XX album artwork

Stacked Up XX

17th November 2014

01. States Of Mind
02. The Key
03. Switch
04. Age Of Panic
05. What’s Going On
06. One Touch One Bounce
07. Stubborn
08. Door Game
09. Peanut Head
10. Peace
11. Eject
12. No Comply
13. Worth
01. Age Of Panic (Git-O-Rama Mix)
02. Twice As (Unreleased 1995 2nd album)
03. Tin Can Hurricane (Unreleased 1995 2nd album)
04. Fast Song (Unreleased 1995 2nd album)
05. States Of Mind – Fusewire Remix
06. Age Of Panic (The Sick Man Remix)
07. Eject (Over Zealous Mix)
08. Switch (Depth Charge First Venom Mix)
09. The Key (Liquid Lunch Mix)
10. Door Game – Phut Demo
11. Age Of Panic (Eat Static Saturated Slug Mix)

Growing old is mandatory, but growing up is optional, and nothing quite rams home the former as starkly as a landmark album from your teenage years reaching the 20th anniversary of its release. Back in 1994 I was a wide-eyed seventeen year-old full of big ideas. The power was to be fought, and it – whatever ‘it’ is – was to be stuck to the man. Therefore, I was primed and ready for Senser’s debut album Stacked Up, and it went off like an atom bomb in my mind.

It is no exaggeration for me to say that Stacked Up is one of my Top 10 Most Influential Albums Of All Time, so this is not your typical album review. Do I think you should listen to Stacked Up? Of course I bloody do. What are you waiting for? Do it now. But for those of you who might need a little more convincing, I will try and explain why you should pick up this special 20th anniversary re-release.

The early nineties were a particularly fertile time in the British music scene for a couple of reasons. It was a time of extensive cross-pollination between genres – particularly over the boundaries between rap and metal – and with the Tories winning a surprise third election in a row, the political atmosphere was highly charged, to say the least. Few bands managed to capture the zeitgeist in such a complete manner as Senser did.

The core of Senser’s sound was – and still is – the collision of unreconstructed thrash metal riffs and machine gun, socially aware rapping. However, they set themselves apart from the pack with the addition of taut and snappy Helmet-esque drumming, thick dubby basslines, soaraway female vocals and assorted electronic bells, whistles and scratches. It is a formidable proposition.

In total, four tracks from Stacked Up were released as singles. “Eject“, the lead single and introduction to the band for many – myself included – sees the band in thrilling full flight, with its jackhammer riff and shoutalong choruses. It swiftly established itself as a dancefloor filler and in turn the band’s reputation as a must-have for any festival bill worth its salt. Along with “Age of Panic“, another uptempo call to arms, it remains a cornerstone of their live performances to this day.

The other pair of singles, “Switch” and “The Key“, showcased the diversity on offer in Senser’s sound. “Switch” shifts the rap-rock balance firmly to the former, with a big, brawny beat and “The Key” is an altogether more languid, ambient affair.

The album as a whole builds on this diversity, with raging stompers like “What’s Going On?” and “Stubborn” sitting comfortably alongside chill-out numbers like “Door Game” and “Peace“. The band effortlessly change gear between these entirely dispirate styles and the tracks retain a shared identity that give Stacked Up a cohesion that could so easily have been lost in a mishmash of confusion. This is a most uncommon feat.

Senser’s sound is given a significant proportion of its bite through the rapping of frontman Heitham Al-Sayed. He retains a clearly British accent throughout, resisting the adoption of a cringe-inducing quasi-American twang. But not only that, his command of rhythm and vocabulary really shows up some of the front-runners in the current rap-metal revival as the lumpen clod-hoppers they really are.

The songs have also stood the test of time remarkably well. This is perhaps due in part to the lyrical themes being more of generalised resistance, defiance and mindfulness than direct references to anything topical that might have dated the tracks. The one real exception here being “No Comply“, a polemic against neo-Nazi groups containing the line “…and I don’t give a fuck about Combat 18″. It’s possibly an indication of how far we’ve come down the equality and anti-racism path that today, barely anyone gives a fuck about that particular group of knuckleheads, and it’s probably difficult to understand now that calling them out publicly was, at the time, a pretty gutsy move.

Stacked Up has been remastered for this re-release, but even when playing tracks back to back with their original counterparts, it’s hard to pick up much of a difference. It’s maybe a little thicker and cleaner now, but it’s more of a minor tweaking than a major overhaul.

However, to tempt long-term fans into the purchase, there is also a second disc of assorted rarities, some of which were previously b-sides, and others never having seen the light of day before. The majority of these extras are remixes, including no fewer than three versions of “Age of Panic“. This is perhaps excessive, but they do at least approach the track in different ways. The Sick Man mix ditches pretty much all the original instrumentation, matching Heitham’s strident vocal to an almost jazzy hip-hop groove.

Perhaps the most interesting inclusions on the bonus disc are a handful of tracks due for inclusion on a follow-up album that never materialised, due to the fracturing of the band in 1995. These tracks are interesting curiosities for long-term fans, but they do unfortunately suggest that this aborted recording would not have scaled the same heights as Stacked Up.

This rift in the band was not fully healed until 2004, and since then the band have released a further three albums and a hip-hop covers EP. The band remain active, even if it is clear that it is no longer a full-time concern, so they play a few carefully chosen shows a year rather than a relentless touring schedule.

With the public seemingly regaining its appetite for politically charged rap-metal, Stacked Up XX should serve as both a trip down memory lane for those of us longer in the tooth, and something of a masterclass for the new generation – because rarely has the combination of riffs and rhymes been so potent.