Album Review: Nero’s Between II Worlds

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The current state of affairs in the EDM industry is nothing if not depressing.  With DJs now commanding obscene amounts of money for push-play sets, a gold rush mentality has grown like a tumor within the industry.  Originality and creativity have all but succumb to the weight of supply and demand, and artists seem increasingly more focused on styling themselves according to whatever happens to be in vogue, and releasing mass quantities of formulaic singles and remixes to feature at their next festival performance, than creating a one-of-a-kind, thoughtful sound.  As a result, it’s increasingly rare to come across a song that can’t be neatly categorized in one of the various sub genres of electronic music, and it’s almost unheard of that an artist who has the ability to produce on the fly using just a laptop would willingly exit the limelight to hone his or her craft.

Well, then there’s Nero.  In 2011, the DJ duo hailing from the UK released Welcome Reality, which had an immediate and resounding impact, catapulting them to the tippiest top of the EDM scene.  A major reason for their broad acclaim was their remarkably unique idea to fashion the album as a movie soundtrack set sometime in a dystopian future (though it plays equally well as the score to a cheesy 80s horror flick…think something like Friday the 13th), and they did so by fusing elements of dubstep, hardstyle, and pop.

After touring for a short stint, Nero seemed to fade away as quickly as they had emerged, and oddly enough, right at the moment that they had ascended to international notoriety.  Behind the scenes, however, they were making moves.  The most important of these was making Alana Watson, who made an indelible impression on the album with her vocals on “Promises,” “Must Be The Feeling,” and “Innocence,” an official third member of the band.

Then, the band explained why it had all but stopped the lucrative business of touring.  That reason was to focus on its next album, Between II Worlds, which, after a few teaser tracks, was finally released this week in full.  To be sure, Nero capitalized on their time in the studio.  While maintaining the sound that made them famous, they chose to eschew some of the more kitschy and overstated aspects of their first album (i.e. the wobbles and drops), and upped their game with a more nuanced, multi-dimensional production.  This is most notable on tracks like “What Does Love Mean” and “Wasted,” which despite being sopped in low end, feature complex orchestral pads and haunting vocals.

And even their more heavy-hitting tracks, like “Satisfy,” don’t follow the mold of build/drop/hook/rinse/repeat.  Instead, they slowly build tension throughout the duration of track using an array of choppy synths and provocative lyrics, which blend wonderfully to create a dramatic and unnerving audio landscape:

In real life, Emperor Nero is known for being an inept ruler that stood idly by and watched as Rome burned.  Similarly, it would appear as though the band Nero is also overseeing the downfall of an empire.  But instead of sitting idly by, they are at least trying to prop it up with their ingenuity.

If you want to see Nero on their first tour in years, make sure to purchase your tickets here!  If you’re in the Bay Area, they will be playing a show at the Warfield right before Halloween that will undoubtedly sell out sooner rather than later.  Then, two days later they’ll be headlining at HARD Day of the Dead in LA to keep the scary vibes rolling.

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