Out of print soon after its initial release in 1995 and on vinyl for the first time, the second collaboration between Justin Broadrick (Godflesh) and Kevin Martin (The Bug) has always been considered a high point in their lengthy collaborative discography. A sprawling two-and-a-half-hour masterwork of heavy beats and rich ambience, it is just as captivating today as it was nearly 30 years ago. Reissued and repackaged with care from all involved, it is a masterpiece that is deserving of the attention it is receiving.
Any time some sort of social media prompt of "favorite albums of all time" or the like pops up, Re-Entry is one of the first titles that comes to mind for me. I still have vivid memories of purchasing the original CD set. It was a bit after its release, so roughly late 1995 or maybe early 1996, when I managed to get a special order (one of the few options in a pre-Internet ordering world) from Blockbuster Music in Brandon, Florida as an import. I had become a fan of Godflesh the year before, around the Merciless EP, and started tracking down some of Broadrick's numerous side projects, with this one being among the most hyped at the time. To say it was an influential release for me is an understatement: It fundamentally changed the way I perceived music, and electronic music specifically.
Originally separated into two distinct sub-albums, the beat-oriented Dream Machinery and the stripped back ambience of Heavy Lids, the sound was nothing at all like the duo put forth on their debut as TA via the 1991 heavier industrial Ghosts album that was more reminiscent of Godflesh at their most deconstructed. The opening moments of the "Flight of the Hermaphrodite" are permanently etched in my brain: a locust swarm of Jon Hassell's trumpet dissipating into vinyl sourced beats and a looped emergency siren immediately kicking in. It was well established that the record was heavily influenced by late 1980s/early 1990s hip-hop production, and that is immediately apparent. That looped siren and densely layered instrumentation is a clear nod to the work of Public Enemy's Bomb Squad production team, and the gritty sound treatments is certainly in line with some of the early RZA productions for Wu Tang Clan and the first round of solo albums that he produced.
The songs on Re-Entry are all lengthy, with none coming in at less than seven minutes, but the evolution and development of these is nothing short of astounding. "Narco Agent vs. the Medicine Man," featuring Kingsuk Biswas of Bedouin Ascent, opens with a wind tunnel of reversed sounds, strange chirps, and the eventual appearance of some sharp drum programming. Eventually a memorable synth sequence comes in and stays throughout, but the sound is slowly transitioned one from focusing on heavy drums into lush, melodic loops and complex electronic passages. This is even more pronounced on "Demodex Invasion": turntable treated drum loops and weird electronic noises are the initial focus, filtered through an array of dub treatments. Eventually Tom Prentice's viola comes in and adds a dramatic, beautiful lushness to metallic rhythms. After reaching a majestic peak of melody, the piece disintegrates into a vast expanse of pulsating synth and electronic detritus. The beats on the first half of Re-Entry are certainly the focus, but Broadrick and Martin do so much more beneath them. The entire gamut of electronic music is captured here via burbling 303 acid synths, dub echoes, concrete sound treatments, and even some new age spaciousness.
Admittedly, in my 28-ish years of owning this album, I always favored disc one over the ambient second half. TA's connection to that short lived attempted genre of Isolationism is most obvious here, but with so much more than just heavily reverbed and slowed samples. "Evil Spirits/Angel Dust" opens with a chiming bell, soon met with bassy synths and ghostly, dark melodic layers. There may not be heavy rhythms here, but the complexity and depth is no different than the first half. "Cape Canaveral" is similarly lush: A slow moving ghostly drift punctuated by clanging electronics and what may be a bit of guitar here and there, as well as guest bassist Damian Bennett's contributions.
The second half is not entirely without the beats, however. "Catatonia" leads with skittering cymbals and droning bass, but the more conventional drum loop that shows up is more cautiously filtered and placed lower in the mix to make the ambience and melody the more obvious focus. "Needle Park" once again features Jon Hassell's prominent trumpet throughout, albeit in a less forceful sense. Underscored by a slow drum machine clicking away, frequent Broadrick/Martin collaborator Dave Cochrane adds bass guitar, resulting in a slow throb that buoys the song throughout its duration.
Besides simply getting this material back in print, there is much to be said for Relapse's presentation. With the vinyl version packaged in a hardback book-like sleeve adorned with new art via Simon Fowler, it exudes refinement and care. As a purist, I am always a bit put off when reissues change album art and packaging, but in this case it was understandable. Kevin Martin's early Photoshop filter forays may have a visual parallel with the sound production strategies the duo employed, but it also clearly dates the album as a mid 1990s release. Fowler's monochromatic, yet beautifully dense art manages to capture the feel of the album in a different visual manner. Broadrick's remastering job for vinyl is also exemplary, adding additional clarity and separation to an already deep and nuanced album. Beyond the packaging, there was one minor change to the track list in order to accommodate the vinyl track list, moving the original closer "Resuscitator" to the earlier part of Heavy Lids, but that does little to impact the flow of the record.
Having actually been present for the original release of this album, it is one of the few cases where I feel I was exposed to such a pivotal development in music. This era for Techno Animal would be short lived, however. Besides the more concise Babylon Seeker EP from the following year, the duo soon drifted into less nuanced, more abrasive and distorted beats via a series of 12" singles, adding hip-hop MCs on Brotherhood of the Bomb, and then dissolving the project later rebranded as Zonal. The post-Re-Entry material is excellent in its own right, but this was always the standout for me. Even with both Broadrick and Martin producing a multitude of brilliant works in the near three decades since this albums release, it still stands as a zenith amongst all of their work, collaborative or otherwise.