Nu rave felt like a distant memory by the time Klaxons' second album Surfing the Void appeared, much longer than three years after their debut Myths of the Near Future kick-started the style’s day-glo mix of rock and dance, winning the Mercury Prize along the way. Accolades like these meant expectations were high for the band’s follow-up, especially from Klaxons’ label. Surfing the Void had a famously difficult birth, with an entire album’s worth of songs scrapped for being “too uncommercial” and aborted sessions with Simian Mobile Disco's James Ford among other producers. The band’s work with Slipknot and At the Drive-In producer Ross Robinson got the green light from their label; while Klaxons don’t quite go from nu rave to nu metal on these songs, the album is so dense, urgent and shrill that they sound more like their namesakes than they did before. They get their most accessible song out of the way first: The single “Echoes” is downright ingratiating, from its huge choruses to its undulating basslines. From there, the band dives headfirst into a sometimes baffling but rarely boring prog-industrial-psychedelic fusion. They don’t just surf the void, they do their best to fill it with hard-edged music and ayahuasca-fueled lyrics about time travel and spiritual enlightenment, at once conveying and causing sensory overload. Klaxons showed a fondness for chaos on Myths of the Near Future's “Atlantis to Interzone” and “Four Horsemen of 2012,” but it’s a full-blown love affair on the title track. With its furious, simultaneous piano and guitar riffs, “Surfing the Void” recalls a trippier “Atlantis” as well as two completely different songs playing at the same time. Meanwhile, “Flashover” invents metal-prog-pop, somehow turning the phrase “myriads of silver discs” into a hook and making its abrasiveness catchy. Klaxons are no strangers to blending pop and more challenging sounds, but this time it sounds like more of a struggle. “The Same Space” shows the band still has a flair for bittersweet melodies, even if this one is doing battle against a thuddingly heavy beat. Though Surfing the Void is less accessible than Klaxons’ debut, it’s still so tightly structured that things never get completely out of hand. “Venusia” wants to scale Muse's heights, but its density and straightforward structure elude epic status. What may be most interesting about Surfing the Void is Klaxons' newfound earnestness, which feels like a byproduct of how hard it was for them to get the album made. Where they used to be cerebral smart alecks dropping allusions to Pynchon and Burroughs, they now sing equally cryptic but heartfelt lyrics about “true horizons” and “imaginations opening.” This idealism, along with the music’s sheer density and strangeness, will fascinate some -- but while Surfing the Void's admirable boldness is hard to dismiss, it’s also not especially easy to like. Ultimately, it’s a difficult album on many levels.
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AllMusic Review by Heather Phares