[Self-released; 2012]

Listening to No Love Deep Web is akin to being thrust into the middle of an active battlefield. There is no build up. There is no identifiable starting point. It’s a hail of gunfire in a war that’s been waging for far longer than you’ve been a witness, and when it all comes to a close, there’s an undeniable notion that nothing has been resolved–that the struggle will continue on, endlessly, forever. In the world of Death Grips, there is no closure. And over the course of its thirteen tracks, No Love Deep Web captures the oppressive nature of that reality with a precision most artists can only dream of.

Much like its predecessors, 2011’s Exmilitary and The Money Store from earlier this year, No Love Deep Web is the sound of desperation, exhaustion, and rage. It thrives on unpredictability–never attacking its listener the same way twice. It exists primarily to disorient, overwhelm, and unnerve. The utter darkness of No Love Deep Web takes hold from the very first note and never lets go–often so unrelentingly that listening to the work from start to finish can be a noticeably draining experience. If there’s one element that defines the power of Death Grips’ artistry more than any other, it’s their ability to paint a portrait of anguish that’s strikingly vivid–often unsettlingly so–and in many ways, No Love Deep Web pushes this emotional atmosphere even further than before. MC Ride has never sounded as defeated or as panicked as he does on this album, spouting lines such as “put your gun to my head, I’ll blow smoke in your face” with such intensity that it feels like every verse could be his last.

The album also continues to prove that Death Grips truly sound like no other band out there. Pulling from a wide variety of different musical genres, the band’s sound owes as much to a group like Public Enemy as it does to Nine Inch Nails. But what’s even more impressive than the sound itself is the method of construction. Expanding on the techniques introduced on Exmilitary and continued with The Money Store, No Love Deep Web’s tracks are often scattered, schizophrenic collages of noise, built from fractured samples, jarring transitions, and substantially off-kilter drum patterns.

Given the tonal and thematic similarities the album has to the band’s previous efforts, crafting a distinct sound while retaining the overall Death Grips aesthetic must have been no easy task. Thankfully, one of the more impressive aspects of No Love Deep Web is just how different a work it turns out to be. Often sparse, bass-heavy, and–dare I say–minimal, the record manages to capture all of the same unrelenting darkness and emotion that defined its predecessors while sounding almost nothing like them. While The Money Store got its message across through rapid-fire bursts of noise and sheer brute force, No Love Deep Web often focuses its attention on atmosphere. On tracks such as “Artificial Death in the West” and “Hunger Games,” Death Grips forgo their usual breakneck speed in favor of a lingering, anxiety-inducing crawl. And while the album occupies the same electronic space the band has become known for, their approach couldn’t be more different.

Choosing to avoid programmed drums completely, Zach Hill’s presence on the album is much more pronounced. And while the beats are mostly produced from an electronic drum kit, there’s a human element to them that was virtually absent from their prior works. Similarly, MC Ride’s vocals are stripped of any effects or manipulation, unveiling an underlying vulnerability in his delivery that, up until this point, was practically non-existent. All of this results in No Love Deep Web being the closest Death Grips have ever come to sounding like a traditional band, and given the fact that everything here is still fundamentally electronic in nature, it’s impressive how often the work veers away from sounding exclusively synthetic.

Of course, the album is not without its faults. It starts off strong and finishes even stronger, but noticeably drags through its middle portion. And while the album is undeniably cohesive, it’s nowhere near as successful in this category as its predecessor was. The Money Store presented an overarching sonic identity that still managed to be drastically reconstructed and varied in presentation from track to track. Deep Web, in contrast, fails to morph its core identity as comprehensibly within each individual song. There is less variance–as if the band couldn’t quite figure out how to present this new approach to us in thirteen distinct ways.

Those issues aside, the fact that Death Grips were able to follow up such an undeniably unique and thoroughly gripping record like The Money Store with another strange and powerful work is enough to label them as one of 2012’s greatest success stories. Given the nature of the release method and the band’s ability to forgo a repeat in favor of crafting a work with an identity all its own, the band has solidified themselves as both risk-takers and much more than a one-trick pony. And while No Love Deep Web is not the masterpiece The Money Store undeniably is, it still manages to be both a substantial step forward and, even more importantly, a work not easily forgotten.