The title of Goth-Trad’s fourth record is beyond prescient. It’s an especially meaningful thesis coming from a producer who is widely credited as one of the first international artists to take up with dubstep as it was first conceived circa 2006. Reigning from Japan, Goth-Trad’s New Epoch, his first LP in seven years, arrives at a time that sees dubstep more readily a staple of YouTube meme cycles and American advertising campaigns than a progressive form of club music. It’s either a tragedy or blessing that Goth-Trad’s first long-player statement following dubstep’s heralded christening comes after the genre’s underground heyday. On one hand, yeah, maybe he’s missed the bus, toiling with a formula that’s, elsewhere, been essentially turned into a cartoon of itself. But on the other, with a declaration as brazen as “new epoch” maybe he’s here to remind us the heights a dubstep traditionalist can still reach in 2012.
On New Epoch, Goth-Trad has adopted a patience, openness and attention to detail that feels indebted to the more intricacy-focused realms of bass music and techno, but retains the sweaty, oxidized exhalations of muscled jungle rhythms. It often creates a hazy, pressurized atmosphere, helped by an obsidian-colored synth pallet, more concerned with various states of foreboding, suffocating tension than single-dimensional modes of bass hookery. But its more bottom-heavy aspirations never clutter the record’s headroom. It’s three tracks in before we get to any sort of writhing, mechanical LFO pulverization on dubstep bomber “Airbreaker,” and those three tracks are often understated and more apt for exploration than id-baiting floor-fodder. Even on a track like “Seeker” or “Cosmos,” which centers around a growling bass synth is more concerned with its chirping poly-rythms and layered snare clacks. “Airbreaker” might have been a little crass with its cyberpunk call-backs if not for the record’s big-picture sequencing.
It’s a diverse listing of tracks. You get tonal outliers like “Strangers” with its shuttering, ice-cold synth melodies and tangle of metallic textures to widen the tonal pallet, it’s tape-spun synths, like the strings on “Man In The Maze,” giving it a momentary grandeur. “Anti Grid”‘s constant klaxon pulse, sawtooth organ flourishes, and supple rattling drum loop like the faraway rustling of sheet metal create an introverted futuristic atmosphere. “Babylon Fall” is enjoyable, albeit a little predictable, settling into its fluttering bass wobble and dubby reggae chords as Max Romeo offers up the single vocal spot on the record. “Mirage” might be the standout on New Epoch‘s more aggressive side, its tide-colored synth chords overtaking the rumbling bass hook and flurry of stabbing arpeggios while a jumble of rattling percussion cycles at the track’s fringes.
Maybe New Epoch is a more personal statement than a political one, and Goth-Trad is simply drawing a line between him and the past seven years. The record is certainly good enough for him to make it out of the dubstep swamp on his own terms, but it’s still indebted to an era that’s very recently at our backs due to over-saturation. Artists like Rustie and Katy B who have used traditional dubstep to inform their own unique take on electro and pop or Shackleton who’s taken dubstep and somehow turned it into not-quite-techno – these are artists who’ve made this sound their own, in fact moving beyond it by taking it in their own distinctly personal direction. New Epoch proves Goth-Trad has the potential to go his own way as well.