What began as a solo project spitefully named after the movie, John Tucker Must Die, Lee Bate’s musical outlet, MUST DIE!, has developed to fruition as a full time career and an extension of his creative vision. His fervent compositions of screeching and unyielding sounds scrambled with chunks of atmospheric segues continually confront the hierarchy and genre-tagging nature of modern music.
In the early stages of development, Lee’s catalog was rapidly built upon a slew of original records and remixes that he churned out at a seemingly break-neck pace. Garnering support from imprints such as Dim Mak, Firepower, and Never Say Die, the industry-wide support broadcast a unanimous acceptance of Lee’s sound; broadening his distinctive style of production and pushing him to the forefront of a wave of young producers riding the slowing decaying popularity of dubstep.
Since signing with Never Say Die, fans have seen a slow decline in the frequency and number of releases from the now Berlin-based artist. While his early career was marked by quantity, the latter portion of 2013 and 2014 have seen MUST DIE! imposing more restraint on the projects released to the public.
I am such a fast song-writer that I think eventually it turns around and bites you. People start to expect more from you and this is kind of my way of practicing really honing my skills instead of just pushing songs out. All of my old songs never really felt finished to me, but I’d put them out because they were good enough representations of what I was trying to do. If I have to take more time off of releasing to make a record that I’m happy with then I feel that is ultimately better in the long run.
The opening track of the LP, ‘Gem Shards’, is functionally the most traditional dubstep record of the album. As a whole, ‘Gem Shards’ is visceral, unrelenting, and mildly punitive. Personifying the raw and dynamic sound that MUST DIE! was built upon, ‘Gem Shards’ will leave a familiar and comforting taste in the mouths of his long-time followers while simultaneously setting the stage for the rest of this expansive musical effort.
In the wake of ‘Gem Shards’, Death & Magic continues to meander down the sinuous rabbit hole of Lee’s creative conscious. Tracks like ‘Hellcat’ and ‘Filter System’, very much the left field, exploratory records of the album, which despite featuring a similar level of production, stray from the standout efforts of the release. To be honest, both tracks are rather irritating. Building enticingly with a rousing beat before unraveling into a blur of piercing stabs, ‘Hellcat’ and ‘Filter System’, despite their differences, impart a nauseating feeling that amplifies as their labored and repetitive beats refuse to ease up.
As records like ‘Hellcat’ continue to showcase Lee’s affinity to embrace the experimental, records like ‘Feathers’ and ‘Project Ghost’ gently sway the needle back to a more comforting frequency. Ethereal and illusory, ‘Feathers’ warmly introduces a nostalgic tinge to Death & Magic.
If anything sounds like me, it’s Feathers. Feathers portrays ambition. It’s composed of tons and tons of layers and orchestral aspects that I’ve always wanted to push in my music. The melodies are more characteristic of where I am in life today and overall I feel the truly track represents me as a person.
While ‘Feathers’ showcases the ambition and drive of Lee to continually push himself and his project to new heights, records like ‘Project Ghost’ bring the listener crashing back to earth with a pulsing low-end throb. One of MUST DIE!’s most well-executed attempts at riddim, ‘Project Ghost’ recycles a repetitious assortment of robotic elements that sound as rich as the story behind them.
The song that actually started the album is Project Ghost. That is the first track that I sent to Sonny (Skrillex). The album originally before it started changing to not be a rock-opera was going to be a space story about the rise of technology and the death of magic. Project Ghost is the musical equivalent to a robot being turned on for the first time.
Death & Magic is a grab bag of the sounds and styles representing the spectrum of Lee’s sonic arsenal. As a whole, the album is a focused representation of the evolution of MUST DIE!; reinforcing the dexterity of the rising producer. While hardened fans of the MUST DIE! brand may not wholeheartedly love every record on the album, this is beside the point. The album speaks to the growth of an artist who approaches all types of music with equal footing. His ability to unify seemingly disparate sounds into one cohesive work is highly commendable. Death & Magic may not satiate those looking for a long-play filled to the brim with ten permutations of ‘Survivors’ but when dissected with a critical eye all listeners should at least find a strong sense of appreciation for Lee’s most extroverted and refined release to date.