The cover art of Belief System, the third album by Leeds-based producer Special Request aka Paul Woolford, is already quite telling. It shows an image of the “Gates Of Hell“, by Auguste Rodin. A monumental sculpture for a monumental album. Because that is definitely what Belief System is.
It is so for several reasons. The most obvious one is the stunning length of 23 tracks. Another one lies in the two styles of the album consists. The spaced-out opener “Chrysalis” introduces you to both of them: spread-out strings, a melancholic bell-type melody and a wonderfully crushing, slow broken-beat. Paul Woolford has even used recordings of cracking ice on the album, and it’s here you can hear them. Then follows the style that makes out the bigger part of the album – tracks that move in the ranges of jungle, drum’n’bass, IDM, braindance and rave. “Adel Crag Microdot” kills you with an acidic, wobbling drop and a sharp snare game.
Simply put, Woolford goes on to repeat the initial recipe of “Chrysalis”: Crushing basslines, on a bed of droning sounds with a central melody – in acid, piano keys or synth. These melodies make the tracks easy to capture, despite being surrounded by complex instrumental backing.
Some of the highlights are the crazy “Curtain Twitcher”, bathing the dance floor in a deadly dominator synth. Or “Make It Real” and “Braindance”, the most classic rave anthems of the album, going all in with piano chords, vocals and breakbeat. The latter one Woolford already gave to some DJs in advance and it proved to be nothing less than incendiary. “Light In The Darkest Hour” tells a story of just that, painting a dark picture of let-down hopes and aggression at first. But Special Request splits the darkness and lets light and hope in.
Though it’s not all crushing, bouncing and craziness here. The last nine tracks are basically ambient but of impressive and grand sort. String arrangements that are made for the big screen, deeply melodramatic. There is sadness (“Carex Vesicaria”), there is fragile bliss (“Witness”) and even action and suspense (“Reckoning”). Woolford has done sound design for films in the past years and you very much hear that experience, as well as sounds from his tape archives (some he used date back to 1993) and his own live drum arrangements.
Belief System is an album that digs into extremes, musically as well as emotionally. You have it all. From the forceful aggression contained in complex jungle beats, to total rave euphoria and then again tranquil and deeply melancholic ambient. Just as the piece of art on its record sleeve, it is a particularly impressive masterpiece.