The easiest way to imagine The Qemists, if you haven't heard them before, is to think of a mad-scientists in a laboratory, mixing and fusing chemicals in a smokey, explosive haze. They're recklessly combining elements of pounding rock, à la Muse, Nine Inch Nails a little bit of Rage Against the Machine, with some electronic undertones similar to the Presets' heavier stuff. For the vocals, they've gone with that unmistakable British edge, not dissimilar to The Streets or Dizzee Rascal. Chuck in Faith No More's Mike Patton, and you get an idea of the Frankenstein-like creation which is The Qemists' patented sound.
Their debut album, Join The Q, established The Qemists as a favorite amongst bands that dare to venture enter into the unchartered territory of genre fusing. In Japan it was the number one electronic album of 2009, and fueled the band along on a world-wide tour that expanded their fan base and literally persuaded fans to Join The Q. Following this early success, the band was prompted to get in the studio and get recording in late 2009, and Spirit in the System is the product - their second full-length release.
Part rock, part rave, part electronica, Spirit In The System is a curious blend that seems to work. It's a non-stop assault from start to end, and the songs are a nice combination of incessant electronic beats, distorted guitars, synth percussion and searing vocals, that in part sound like Chris Cornell, (Soundgarden, Audioslave), and in others venture into the British lyrical verse style we're all familiar with. "Dirty Words", one of the better songs on the album, exemplifies this Cornell scream, backed by fat drums, a simple electronic line and dirty guitars, all which give it a very accessible sound. Conversely we get songs like "Take It Back" and "Renegade", that bring us the street inspired lyrical attack that the Brits do best.
"Life's Too Short", "Fading Halo" and "Hurt Less" revolve around female vocalists that vary in style and intensity. Vocalist Chantal gives us "Fading Halo", perhaps the most sensitive song on the album which is complete with a synth-string section and piano melody. It's nonetheless rave-esque, as Chantal sings long drawn out lines and the Qemists give it a drum-and-bass backing that stops and starts at different intervals depending on the emotional crescendos of the song. "Life's Too Short" starts immediately with a wailing female vocal, becoming more sultry as the song sinks into a slow, synth/guitar driven backing. The middle of the song breaks into a repeated synth line where the Qemists, similarly with other songs on the album, strategically place slow breakdowns before the synths and drums rise into a fury, before we're dropped into a drum-and-bass attack again. Such is typical of the Qemists' song structure and style.
This album is not for the faint of heart; it would be easy to imagine it being played in an underground rave/drum-and-bass club somewhere in the heart of London's back streets, where this sort of sound is truly the soundtrack of the urban jungle. For this audience it ticks every box, and has solid enough synth and vocal melodies to give it longevity in the scene. After listening to the album from beginning to end, it begs the question "what do The Qemists actually sound like?", because nearly every song on the album is a collaborative effort. But then we remember that its actually them who create the non-stop melee, and sometimes harmony, that lies beneath. It must be mentioned though that theirs is a niche market, yet to explode into popularity on the world stage. This is however a solid second effort from an outfit that has the potential to become a club staple in the not too distant future...that is if the scene is ready, and big enough to give them the kind of success they could achieve.
Highlights :: "Take It Back", "Dirty Words", "Life's Too Short".