Since his epic Boxcutter EP on Critical in December 2018, Emperor has put out a number of singles and another mini EP called Backchat but he’s also been working on his own label, EMPR so it’s not surprising that his focus has been taken away from multi-track releases. One of the greatest bass storytellers in the game, however, it’s always great to see Emperor doing bigger releases like the six-track Boxcutter and now his new EP on Vision out last week, Sunder.
“Sunder” as a vocabulary term is the verb from which “asunder”, as in “tearing asunder” takes its name. It’s ripping apart, creating a rift, tearing open. On inspection, the album art for Sunder looks like a big gash. Emperor could have been thinking of his own creative process or the current cultural climate when he came up with this name, either would be appropriate. No matter what his intention, the resulting music is a good reminder that from things torn asunder comes healing and new great things can be built. That’s certainly what’s happened with this EP.
In his own words about the EP, Emperor said, “for this EP I explored some new ideas, techniques and concepts,” so that may be where the tearing apart comes from; a sundering of his creative comfort zone. It’s quite obvious from the opening of the title track that there’s lots of new work to unpack here, from a liberal use of horns to the ambient sound design to how everything is compressed. It’s a completely new and different soundscape on this EP and Emperor will likely change the landscape of bass music with it once again.
The afore-mentioned opening track has a minimal beat feel but a heavy, distorted bass synth that comprises the melody in the beginning. Then from the ambient background comes a melody line that’s a little more musical and emotive. It’s a quite somber track but while the whole EP has these new techniques and compositional notes, not all the tracks are quite so heavy mood-wise.
They are all heavy bass-wise, of course, starting with “Ham-Fisted,” which is quite deep and as close as Sunder comes to full-on neurofunk. While it has an evil neuro tinge, “Ham-Fisted” is not somber in the same way the title track is. There’s a bit of humor and fun to that heavy bass and once again, the synths have an interesting tone and quality that must be the result of Emperor’s experimentation on this release.
“Shakedown” with Levela is another highlight that’s also sort of on the minimal end of neuro. There’s a lot of beatplay in this track and a surprising cinematic break that will be fun in mixes and that the two artists probably had a lot of fun with in the mixdown. “Shuffle Ting” is the most steppy track on the EP, almost achieving roller status as it moves quickly through its transitions and builds sound upon sounds. Lastly “Artifice” closes the EP with a real apotheosis of the rest of the tracks, incorporating all the new styles and techniques in a cacophony of heavy, steppy goodness.
As is always the case with Emperor, there are a lot of layers to the each track on Sunder and to Sunder as a whole: a technical masterpiece, each track is also evocative and emotive. Technique notwithstanding, Emporer’s work always makes the listener feel something deep, primal and important so watch out: that Sunder may be happening in your own chest.
Sunder is out now on Vision Recordings. Click here to purchase or stream.