The Adept

A veteran of Nairobi’s metal scene and frequent collaborator within the Nyege Nyege collective of experimental electronic artists, Martin Kanja speaks multiple dialects of extremity. As Lord Spikeheart, the vocalist and producer has made bristling grindcore with his now defunct experimental band Duma, along with pounding industrial, creaky noise, and many other kinds of abrasive music. The through line in all his work, which combines global strains of metal, electronic, and traditional music, is intensity. He gravitates toward arrangements that are serrated and dense, seeking catharsis in the clashing. Kanja’s debut solo album surpasses the might of his past work by several degrees while showcasing his flair for integrating disparate sounds. Listening to it feels like moshing in the Mariana Trench, being hurled by the currents through liquid darkness.

The Adept is a heretic metalhead’s ode to all drums. Backed by producers and vocalists with roots in digital hardcore, noise, and rap, Kanja welds blast beats and club grooves into a nightmare engine of rhythm. He gleefully steers this hulking frigate, perhaps keen finally to be seen as a lead act. On Duma, his feral vocals mainly rode and accented the percussion, taking a backseat to bandmate Sam Karugu’s layered beats. Here, his repertoire of growls and grunts dictates the shape of the chaos, constantly pushing the songs forward or lurching them sideways.

The arrangements are even thicker than the marbled sound slabs of Duma. Warped wails, ghostly chants, and shrieking ululations whip through valleys of low end. Drums smack and pound against each other like monstrous molars. River systems of snarls course through strata of distortion and static. From the opening snare strikes to the closing synths, negative space is rare. Kanja and crew pack these songs like a metal turducken.

The record isn’t just an exercise in compositional gall; it is as dynamic as it is confrontational. While some songs, like the trap-infused “33rd Degree Access,” storm ferociously out the gates, others build painstakingly to their peaks. On the record’s most dancefloor-ready track, “4 AM in the Mara,” Spikeheart and co-producer DJ Die Soon let tension smolder for nearly two minutes before dropping a thick bassline. “Red Carpet Sleepwalker” swings from a haunted whorl of distorted Fatboi Sharif vocals to trance synths and later gabber drums stacked with screams, finally dissolving into drumless babble.

Likewise, “Sham-ra,” one of three songs produced by mischievous BBBBBBB producer Saionji, opens with gurgling synths, a meditative backbeat, and gusts of drone that suggest a waterside temple. After whipping into a tempest of bass kicks, staccato grunts, and prickly static, it just keeps transforming: first a roaring death march, then simmering hums and chatter. The record molts more than a cicada brood.

Without a lyric sheet or fluency in Swahili and Kikuyu, it’s hard to know whether Kanja was joking when he called The Adepta very loving, positive, and uplifting record.” To my ears, “aggressive,” “brutal,” and “immense” are more appropriate descriptors. But even if Kanja was being cheeky, he sounds renewed over this punishing backdrop. In his hands, metal and dance, Berlin and Kampala, Backxwash and BBBBBBB, feel like kin.

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Lord Spikeheart: The Adept