Music Reviews

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Artist: Juno Reactor
Title: Labyrinth
Format: CD
Label: Metropolis (@)
Rated: *****
Over the years, Juno Reactor has established itself in the mainstream collective unconscious as the voice of high-energy techno music. From the early days of the psychedelic-trance of Luciana’ and Beyond the Infinite’, through to the more recognized contributions made to the Matrix films, Ben Watkins and his ever-rotating menagerie of contributing musicians have carved a niche for themselves above and beyond that of any of their contemporaries.More recent works have moved towards a fusion of techno with world-music. This has been done more creatively than the likes of Deep Forest or latter-day Delerium, thanks in no small part to the inclusion of genuine artists from other fields, and not just a heavy reliance on sampled chanting and beats. The pinnacle of this approach was achieved with Juno Reactor’s year 2000 magnum opus, "Shango". A blistering slab of passionate and original techno music, it was a consistent blast of adrenaline. 2004 sees the release of the followup, but does "Labyrinth" have the chops to match its predecessor? The answer, in a nutshell, is no. Not that it’s a bad release, but as we shall see, it falls short of its potential. "Labyrinth" is a nine-track release that clocks in at just under an hour. It sports the same spectacular production that has been a Juno Reactor trademark since the beginning; the engineering and mastering are a beautiful marriage of skill that creates a full, smooth audio experience regardless of sound system. This album is going to sound amazing no matter what it’s played on: impotent computer tweeters, glistening Bang & Olufsen sub-woofers, it doesn’t matter. Ben Watkins knows what sounds good, and it reflects in the aural quality of Juno Reactor.However, when we look at the writing itself, it becomes quite clear that there is little to Labyrinth that hasn’t been done previously. The CD opens on a high-note, with Conquistador 1 & 2’. This moody epic blends Spanish classical guitar with organic percussion and efficiently poetic synth lines. Sound familiar? It should; it is essentially a continuation of the opening track to "Shango", the spaghetti-western inspired Pistolero’. Similarly, the song called Zwara’ is virtually identical in mood and feel to the track called Hulelam’ on the last album. Sadly, these three songs are the highlights of the album, despite their similarity to earlier Juno Reactor material. This lack of innovation is disappointing, and compounded by the inclusion of two songs that were featured on the score for The Matrix Revolutions. These are supposedly remixed, but not to an extent significant enough to make them sound like anything more than they are; backing tracks to a fight scene we’ve already seen.Overall, Labyrinth is an elegant release that manages to artfully transcend its component genres, just like Shango did; however it does so at the cost of a certain raw vitality that fueled earlier Juno Reactor works. It is a worthwhile experience, but the lack of innovation and the filler tracks are a letdown after the highs of previous work. If you’ve never heard Juno Reactor before, then I’m sure Labyrinth will stand out as a dynamic, fresh approach to what techno music is capable of. If you’re a longtime fan of Ben Watkins, then this CD will fail to surprise you.



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