D.Ni.L. is a 35 year old hip hop artist, musician, producer and emcee hailing from Yorkshire. Having played with bands growing up in York, he developed the ability to compose in his head and play by ear. He has battled alcohol and drug addiction since the age of twelve, and spent four years living in hostels and sleeping rough.
These tough life experiences give his music an edge and intensity, and his record label Musication specifically uses music as a tool for recovery for people who face issues like homelessness and addiction. This has led to collaborations with Buttercream 87 and Wasabi Fire Alarm, as part of the band). As a solo artist he released two albums in 2017, This In’t A Party and the more guitar-influenced Suicide In Sips.
In 2018, he released the studio albums Boy Inside and Do You Know Who I Am?, both of which I reviewed highly favourably. D.Ni.L. has developed his own unique musical style which fuses aspects of progressive rock/metal (Deftones, Muse) with the emotive and well-crafted songwriting style of the Manic Street Preachers, also fused with the brutal lyrical honesty and aggression of hip hop.
This latest album, V, consists of eleven tracks and it maintains D.Ni.L’s signature sound whilst sounding fresh, owing to his highly sophisticated yet hard hitting musical approach.
As with his two previous albums the album starts with a strong, arresting track that instantly grabs your attention, in this case, Drop. Starting with taut, angular electric guitars saturated with gritty edge the time signature seamlessly switches from 6/4 to 6/8 where D.Ni.L shows the more melodic side to his musical persona, singing in falsetto and in harmony.
After these two contrasting but both highly effective sections have repeated the track then becomes ever more complex with wiry, syncopated riffs providing the bedrock for the mesmerising if enigmatic refrain: “You were my first love but I don’t think that I could ever….” which starts out sung and it’s up being growled, a sign of his strong metal influences.
The following Backhander maintains the brooding intensity and is propelled by a surging low end riff and meaty, punchy drums. D.Ni.L delivers a vocal performance full of conviction, never more so on the main hook, “There’s no turning back this time, there’s nothing left on me….” which turns into a haunting, anthemic mantra towards the end, delivered in octaves.
Third track Painted is one of the most visceral songs he’s yet recorded, with searingly aggressive vocals on the verse counterpointed by a vaulting chorus melody. The way he uses opposites in terms of both texture and rhythm/harmony provides dynamic contrasts throughout the album and this track is no exception.
Fourth song Licked is one of the album’s most instant and accessible, It starts out with an urgent but relatively straightforward 4/4 rhythm, yet even when it develops into something more complicated, the simplicity and compelling nature of the main vocal melody captivates the ear throughout.
Wallowing is a unique track on the album; a slow burning epic with a beautifully simple beat and languid tempo that brought to mind the ethereal Teardrop by Massive Attack. Musically, it’s a rich sonic landscape of piano, strings and picked guitar lines while D.Ni.L’s troubled lyrics only add to the potency. This track in particular feels like an artistic progression even from the heady heights of his first two albums, adding a maturity borne of experience as well as being one of the musically accomplished things he’s written.
His sense of anger and resigned despair are never too far from the surface, which manifests clearly in the bottled rage of the following Fuck Right Now. Set at a brooding tempo, the music proceeds with a menacing momentum as D.Ni.L sings about being in prison “bashed about” and the all things “dark and sinister“. It’s a compelling depiction of a nihilistic, world-weary mindset that many will relate to, captured perfectly by the main hook, “If someone told this is just a little break from hell, I wouldn’t give a fuck right now…”.
If anything, seventh track Crawled Out is even angrier, D.Ni.L at his most angular and dissonant to begin with before breaking down to one of the emotive soul searching sections that he does well, then building back up to a passage of righteous fury.
Touched is one of the album’s most anthemic songs and a real grower. The verse provides the calm before the storm (“Now I smell the reaper on her breath…the smell of death was lingering..” he intones, darkly) before breaking out into blistering widescreen low-end guitars, the ascending octaves towards the end providing a gripping finish.
20/20 is one of the album’s lighter tracks that, for me, shows D.Ni.L’s gift for melody and effective harmonic progressions as well as the strong influence of the excellent and somewhat underrated Welsh group Manic Street Preachers, at least in the first half. From there it returns to his more familiar territory of prog-rock esque rhythmic left turns matched with gnarly riffage. It’s an approach he’s honed to perfection.
Bunch of Fives takes us back into a maelstrom of emotional turmoil, beginning with the tormented lines: “If I can’t figure me out, who’s gonna do it for me?”. This forms the main refrain with the music taking us through some equally dark and jagged sonic terrain; insistent lead guitar lines battle with tumultuous drums and industrial NIN-style grunting chords.
Final track Lying In Wait is the album’s uber-epic at nearly nine minutes duration and there’s not a dull moment. Featuring sections of relentless rage contrasted with sections of melodic beauty, it brings to the visceral impact of Nirvana’s In Utero, incidentally Kurt Cobain’s third album. The track reaches a powerful climax then fades away, giving the impression of an unquenchable energy. It feels like an apposite way to close things out.
Overall, this album completes a trifecta of highly consistent and unique alternative rock albums from D.Ni.L. It maintains the same quality and intensity of his first two albums while eclipsing them in certain ways, featuring some of his both troubled and transcendent music. D.Ni.L has learnt how to channel his demons into his art and the effect is frequently cathartic and electrifying. Highly recommended listening.