Nero showcase a new direction on ‘Between II Worlds’
Four years ago, Nero became the face of a burgeoning bass music movement with their debut album, Welcome Reality. With an equally stunning live show, the UK duo of Daniel Stephens and Joe Ray cemented themselves as one of the most exciting acts of the moment. Now with vocalist Alana Watson as a full-time member, they’ve embarked on the next chapter: Between II Worlds.
Nero’s sophomore album has not been without its fair share of hype. In fact, fans have been clamoring for the project since late 2013 when Nero shared a cryptic, looped ambient piece, 28 minutes and 8 seconds in length — a recurring motif for the group. Being the perfectionists they are, however, Nero took their time sculpting the final release. Fortunately, the wait is over; Between II Worlds is here.
Photo Credit: Derek Bremner
This is not ‘Welcome Reality 2.0’
Let’s get one thing out of the way from the start: this is not Welcome Reality 2.0. If you’re expecting a continuation of their 2011 style with some minor developments, you’re bound to be disappointed. While Between II Worlds still bears the authentic Nero sound, the emphasis has been placed on authentic songwriting over next-level sound design. With Alana Watson now permanently at the forefront, her vocals have become a dominant fixture of their compositions, and in some cases, the most memorable aspects of the songs.
Take “Two Minds” for example. Aside from riffing off modern UK house tropes, the single succeeds thanks to Watson’s charming vocal hook. While the track could surely stand on its own as an instrumental, Watson’s lyrical contribution affords a certain humanness to the track that can’t be replicated with any amount of sound design. This kind of pop-like affability may serve as a point of resistance for die-hard fans, yet it’s ultimately the basis of the group’s new sound as they strive to achieve the quintessential rock-electronic fusion.
The Nero universe is as compelling as ever
If there’s one thing we’ll never grow tired of, it’s the signature Nero aesthetic. Equal parts dystopian and cyberpunk, it’s the Dickian universe embodied in music. Much like the iconic film Blade Runner — which Nero have cited as influence in the past — the album bears an unmistakable ‘80s feel. There’s a certain glitz and glamor to it that is juxtaposed by a gritty, anarchic underbelly — much like Ridley Scott’s 1982 film.
The theme is perhaps best exemplified by new track “What Does Love Mean.” With its guitar-like arpeggio and string accompaniment, the song has the hypnotic grandeur of a rock epic. When Alana’s vocals kick in, it transforms into a full-on power ballad.
The journey of the tracklist
The sequence of Between II Worlds is just as methodical as the tracks themselves. Beginning with “Circles,” for instance, provides a triumphant introduction to the album. By the time the album reaches its finale, however, things have slowed down significantly. The story ends on a delicate note with the emotionally-charged “Wasted” — one of Nero’s most poignant songs to date.
If I may offer one piece of advice, it’s this: listen to the album from start to finish. While most people will be tempted to immediately skip to the new material, the album is much more gratifying as a cumulative experience. Try to approach it as though you haven’t heard the singles before and the overall story will be that much more engaging. After three years of hard work, we owe them at least that.
Just as they did in 2011, Nero have once again provided a glimpse into the future of electronic music. Such a fluid combination of memorable songwriting and flawless production is not achieved often — nor ever this potently. With Between II Worlds, the trio have ultimately taken a more affirmative step into the crossover world, and that’s not a bad thing. Rather, the album offers a more matured sound, existing in the elusive middle-ground between catchy song structures and authentic electronic production.
In many ways, the album’s title most powerfully serves as a metaphor for Nero themselves. Caught between the two worlds of rock and electronic music, they’ve meticulously constructed a sound that hinges upon the best elements of both. This is not the Nero of the EDM universe, but the makings of a timeless electronic band.