Eight years is an uncommonly long wait between chapters in any band’s story, but Dub Trio have always had a lassez-faire attitude to convention. Indeed, you can count the number of instrumental three-pieces forging a hybrid of heavy garage rock and experimental dub reggae on the fingers of one finger. Even the trajectory the band had followed from debut album Exploring The Dangers Of in 2004 through to IV – unsurpringly their fourth album – in 2011 was in direct contravention to the well-trodden path to maturity that bands usually take. So, rather than busting out of the gates young, hungry and angry to then gradually mellow out as the years pass, Dub Trio started out as an almost completely unadulterated dub reggae outfit, with barely a distorted riff to be heard and became progressively heavier, angrier and more awkward as time progressed – to the point where IV barely featured any identifiable reggae elements at all.
So to have titled this fifth album, heralding their return to active duty after a considerable period of radio silence, The Shape of Dub to Come is a bold move, to say the least. Both in terms of the homage to the title of Refused‘s magnum opus (The Shape of Punk to Come, which to these ears is one of the very best albums ever written) and in the general sentiment, given how the band seemed to have moved away from the dub sound in general. For those in the know, that title can’t help but inflate expectations – and the good news is that Dub Trio are most certainly not inflating them falsely. The dub has unquestionably returned.
The Shape of Dub to Come feels like an exercise in recalibration, and that is reflected in the precise running order of its tracklist, picking up where IV left off and then steadily broadening out it’s scope. In what could be seen as a bold move, the album begins with the first of a clutch of collaborations rather than a purer statement of their core proposition. The band have been no strangers to collaboration in the past, either – in particular, a long-standing association with Mike Patton saw him guest on both their second album New Heavy (which was also released on Patton’s Ipecac Records label) and third album Another Sound Is Dying, as well as being enlisted to serve as the backbone of the Peeping Tom live band. Elsewhere, Dub Trio have also been seen in action backing Jewish rapper Matisyahu, and the individual musicians have contributed to a whole host of other projects, largely in the hip-hop sphere.
This time around, the opening collaboration sees Buzz Osborne of The Melvins lend his distinctive vocals to a thick and noticeably sludgy groove. Save for the odd spot of expertly manipulated feedback noise, one might be forgiven for mistaking it for an actual Melvins track. Similar could be said a couple of tracks later, when Troy Sanders takes a turn at the microphone on “Fought the Line”. However, it would certainly sit at the gentler end of the Mastodon spectrum. Of course, in both these cases it is largely due to the disproportionate influence that vocals have on the overall sound of a track, rather than any suggestion they are derivative, so it would be potentially interesting to hear them played instrumentally at some point.
Either side of “Fought the Line” sits “Spyder” and “Bad Comrade” which re-establish what might be referred to as the ‘classic’ Dub Trio formula. The thick, atmospheric grooves switch between rock and reggae variations, with a few intermediate stops along the way. As The Shape of Dub to Come progresses beyond its rather explosive start, the heavier riffs largely melt into the background. The band’s penchant for experimentation remains, but it is a calmer, more melodious and – importantly – more overtly dub-focused experience.
The third collaboration on The Shape of Dub to Come is with singer-songwriter Meshell Ndegeocello, whose ethereal vocals float over an extended reggae jam straight out of the Jamaican soundsystems. Guitarist DP Holmes wrings all manner of reverb-drenched tones and sounds over the languid groove laid down by bassist Stu Brooks and drummer Joe Tomino. “Needles” remains almost completely percussionless for the first half of its runtime, before turning into an Explosions in the Sky style post-rock crescendo. However it, proves to be a false build, and the fact the song peters out shortly after that build’s peak rather than dropping into some form of meaty payoff groove is possibly the biggest disappointment on the album.
The more abrasive experimentation of IV is most overtly heard here on “Computery”, a quirky track that, as the title suggests, has a more electronic feel, even if it does culminate in a heavily effected, churning riff and a short burst of atonal cacophony, but a short sharp dose of that, in context, is more palatable. “Sati” rounds out the album with more gentle ambience, and it is not immediately obvious whether the lead melody is provided by guitar, vocal, synth or theremin after it has been run through Dub Trio’s fearsome bank of effects.
Dub Trio sit at the centre of an improbable Venn Diagram featuring Karma To Burn, Battles and King Tubby, and fans of all three acts will find something to enjoy here. After some time away, The Shape of Dub to Come showcases a reinvigorated band that is more mature, and a sound that is both more balanced and heavy in more ways than one. It retains the heft and adventurousness of IV whilst reintroducing the core elements of their earlier work, blending them together in their most effective album to date. If this is the shape of dub to come, then the future is bright. Let’s just hope we don’t have to wait until 2026 to hear the next one.
The Shape of Dub to Come is released on April 26th on New Damage Records.