When the Prodigy’s polarizing first single, “Charly,” was released in 1991, frontman Liam Howlett was a gap-toothed 21-year-old with a bad attitude and a bowl haircut. The public didn’t know what to make of the English group’s riotous electronic sound that blended ragga with hardcore metal, but it was impossible to ignore. Within months, Howlett was hailed as the ringleader of England’s burgeoning rave scene and pictured on the cover of Mixmag pointing a gun to his head. It marked the beginning of a new era of dance music that wasn’t meant for the masses.
Much has changed in 25 years. The group released five albums, selling millions of copies worldwide, and the members were dubbed the Godfathers of Rave. Meanwhile, dance music has morphed into EDM, a far cleaner scene than the gritty underground from which The Prodigy sprang. But while rave culture may have lost much of its edge, The Prodigy, on its sixth studio album, The Day Is My Enemy, has not. Loaded with 15 unrelenting tracks, the album is a heavy dose of big beat, the synthesized industrial sound that the group helped define decades ago. Some songs, such as “Wild Frontier,” lean heavily on rock influences like Rage Against the Machine and Nine Inch Nails, while others, like “Destroy,” are more dancefloor-friendly, peppered with lively scratch effects and sparse, robotic chanting. The fiercest tracks, such as “Nasty” and “Rok-Weiler,” are severe to the point of disorienting. There’s little relief.
It’s a lot to digest, and the sound no longer has the wonder of being new. But perhaps The Prodigy has come full circle. In the same way that the group’s first records were a reaction to watered-down 1980s dance pop, The Day Is My Enemy stands out against the sugarcoated EDM ruling today’s airwaves. In that context, Howlett and his bandmates get points for tenacity and consistency. And while it’s unlikely that the album will win the group many new fans, The Prodigy has always been an acquired taste.
This story originally appeared in the April 11 issue of Billboard.