Six years after Orbital’s last album, Wonky, and four years after they split (like, properly, forever), the Hartnoll brothers are back with this, their up-tempo ninth LP. Orbital have always been politically aware, but here the vibe is fevered, almost grotesque, reflecting the horror of Trump and Brexit. PHUK (or ‘Please help UK’) is a rave juggernaut that recalls the duo’s early work, while Hoo Hoo Ha Ha canters along on a pulsing backbeat before a synth-trumpet comes in to destroy the whole mood in a gloriously silly way. It’s funny and disturbing all at the same time.
There’s a more conventionally darker side to Monsters Exist, though, a little reminiscent of their finest work on 1996’s In Sides and 1999’s Middle Of Nowhere. The Raid begins with moody industrial beats and foreboding speech samples, but eventually blossoms into a crawling, leaden groove that recalls Mogwai’s recent, more electronic work – but with more sampled screaming, of course.
Buried Deep Within, meanwhile, begins as ambient drift, but soon moves into the kind of deep techno that Phil Hartnoll is so enthused by, and The End Is Nigh is led by a trance synth that sounds a little dubstep, a little EDM. There’s nothing wrong with these tracks per se, but they don’t sound like Orbital.
The rest of Monsters Exist could only be the work of the Hartnolls, however, especially its closing salvo, There Will Come A Time, a grand trip complete with interstellar synths and Brian Cox’s strangely comforting words about the evaporation of the universe. As the seven-minute track blossoms with choral synths, glitchy rhythms and unexpected melodic shifts, it’s a life-affirming, moving finale to an angry and strange record. As a whole, classic Orbital, then.