I’ve got to come clean. I knew pretty much zero about H.L.I . prior to writing this review. However, over the course of several months of intensive listening, my vague knowledge has given way to a more fully formed and complex picture not just of the group, but of a whole other sub-genre lurking in the deepest, darkest depths of the UK hip-hop underworld. Listening to the Birmingham duo was like having a musical epiphany; indeed, Sensei C and Elai Immortal push the envelope so far, they have in the process, come up with a work of outstanding artistry. Put simply, their latest release titled ‘Omniglyph‘ is one of the most exhilarating and extraordinary releases I’ve come across in years.
As a sonic landscape, the 12-track EP is as unique as it is stunning. Providing a sci-fi vision of hip-hop, the duo transcend their musical vision, posing deeply metaphysical questions of the nature of the mind through their sound. The wildly shuffling electronic patterns are very atmospheric, outsized and almost kaleidoscopic in colour, providing musical and lyrical innovation and experimentation way beyond the norm. Omniglyph also has a very mysterious allure; sonically lustrous electronic frequencies are wrought-up and tumultuous, while the themes and concepts are suffused with an otherworldly mysticism.
Its effect is both minimal and maximal; it’s essentially avant-garde but works with very humble ingredients tightly rendered, diligently crafted and sequenced to give way to a layered, cumulative experience. The level of finesse and execution here is sublime and is literally light years ahead of the majority underground hip-hop acts out there. The gossamer-thin electronic pulses and swirling blade beats are something else; they’re almost scientific, but still somehow show a deep and humble reverence for their hip-hop origins. The cross-genre blurring within an essentially hip-hop framework is testament to the duo’s intense, almost zealous level of craftsmanship.
The EP is definitely not your typical boom-bap; it is a high-energy, psychedelic and rhythmically intense assault on your eardrums, that will no doubt translate into a very intriguing set at live shows. While its roots are traditional, the myriad new-age creative impulses edge perilously close at times to invoking pure terror and mind-bending new possibilities.The insane level of multi-instrumental complexity and interweaving elements displays a vigorous urge to entertain but also to educate. The duo achieve this vocally, too; both are clever, cryptic wordsmiths and Sensei C impresses especially with his motley, space-age lexicon while subtler components like Naomi Mighty‘s eerily dissonant siren song plays off beautifully against the heavy, throbbing ultrasounds.
Overall, Omniglyph is a cauldron of ferment and creativity. In fact, I’d even go so far as to say it’s is one of the boldest-sounding releases ever in UK hip-hop. For me at least, it was a transforming experience that has irrevocably changed my perceptions of the hip-hop genre. Retaining just enough of the original elements to push the genre forward, H.L.I. embody a spirit of creativity unparalleled in the UK hip-hop scene by exploring the farthest reaches of the genre’s sonic capabilities.