Benjamin Damage 'Obsidian' album review

Josiah Hartley gives his thoughts on the final ever 50WEAPONS album release.

Becca Frankland

Last updated: 23rd Sep 2015

Anyone with a slight interest in techno will be aware that 50WEAPONS are shortly preparing to shut shop after ten years of action. The Berlin-based imprint run by Modeselektor has seen releases by the co-bosses themselves, not to mention a roster that includes Addison Groove, Shed, Cosmin TRG, Marcel Dettmann, Bambounou, and of course their very first signing Benjamin Damage.

Damage has long served the label well. So, who more a fitting candidate to bestow the honour of recording the label's final album release than him? The Welsh producer, who currently resides in the Technopolis that is Berlin, offers up Obsidian - his sophomore solo LP - as the farewell blastoff.

He could have easily thrown together a bundle of club bangers that function like a double pack EP, but that would have been the obvious route. Instead the record is a rather personal, yet balanced collection of IDM-tinged techno numbers, and brief moments of ambient introspection that all share a similar air of melancholy.


Obsidian vinyl arrived today

Posted by Benjamin Damage on Monday, August 31, 2015

From an artistic point of view, title tracks tend to sum up an album as a whole. For that reason they typically appear later on in the track-list to allow the listener to either; digest a reasonable chunk then try to make sense of it all, or simply keep them on their toes throughout the listening experience.

Obsidian’s title cut however, opens proceedings with no qualms about revealing its full hand early on. It’s an interlude of wistful ambiance made up of Boards of Canada-esque soundscapes and grainy textures, all underpinned by a light metronomic kick drum. And certainly prepares you for more intriguing sounds of this ilk later on.

‘Cosmonaut’ follows, which brings what many will find to be more familiar ground for the producer. The track is built around the same kind of formula best heard on one of his biggest tunes to date ‘010x’. Driving 4/4 kicks hold the frame together, while flange-soaked hi-hats whiz across a synthchord hook that sounds like it’s desperately rising above ocean deep waters gasping for air. Before sinking into oblivion and coming back to the surface intermittently.

‘Transmission’ also treads a similar path, especially in an aesthetic sense. A sub-aquatic quality appears to grace each track even at just a third into Obsidian, which allows the album to flow seamlessly, despite the occasional shifts in tempo and rhythms.

Elsewhere there are further nods to WARP Records' early stable of pioneering artists on cuts like ‘Pulse Width’ (above) that feature broken drum rhythms, surrounded by swirly pads with pensive chord changes, and beguiling melodies. ‘Shimmer’ is another appealing number that begins on a sci-fi ambient tip. Before disjointed kicks propel the tune along in unison with a chirpy synth melody that recalls the playful, almost childlike motifs of Plaid or Aphex Twin in their nineties heyday. 

The latter half of the LP finds several other standout pieces. Namely the euphoric ‘Vostok 6’ which has single written all over it, and the potential to cause hysteria on the peak time dancefloors of clubland. Likewise ‘Parallax View’ with its submerged keys and urgent drums has all the necessary ingredients to go down well with the after-hours lot.

It’s evident through these tracks that the German capital which Damage has made his home has had a salient influence on his production heliosphere, with just the right amount of progression you’d expect from a producer still in the early years of their career.

That said, given his close ties to the UK, regular collabs with fellow countryman Doc Daneeka, and a willingness to draw on inspiration - whether that be electronica from the past, or the ever-evolving sounds of the UK bass underground - it will be interesting to see where Benjamin Damage goes next with his work after such a stunningly fitting finale for 50WEAPONS. 

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