If it seems like it’s been a long time since we last heard from Melbourne-based conscious hiphop collective Combat Wombat, that’s because it has. In fact, it’s been 12 years since Elf Transporter, MC Izzy, Monkey Marc and DJ Wasabi released their second album ‘Unsound $ystem’ on Elefant Traks, their most recent longplayer if you don’t count their 2010 split release with Cop On Fire ‘Your Next Flatscreen Could Be Your Last.’ While the political landscape has certainly shifted considerably over the ensuing decade and numerous prime ministers have come and gone, some things have stayed the same – corporations continue to run almost unchecked, their dollars greasing the process of big business absorbing local communities and cultures in the name of mining and industry.
It’s the sort of subject matter that the ever-astute yet grounded Combat Wombat have made their core concerns over their last 18 years, maintaining a steady presence at outdoor parties and activist gatherings, sometimes with their Lab Rats solar-powered sound system in tow. In many senses this independently released third album ‘Just Across The Border’ picks up directly from where the group last left off, and there’s a sense of them refining their approach rather than really ripping up the rulebook. Indeed, there’s a decidedly late nineties feel to a lot of Monkey Marc’s production and beats here, with MPC rhythms and DJ Wasabi’s subtle scratchwork dominating a lot of the palette.
As is traditional now, things swing between more hiphop-based structures and deep bass-heavy dub / reggae influences, without a sense of the righteous energy dipping at any point here. ‘Hitman’ offers up a suitably chilling intro as bleeping Morse code tones and modulated synths drift over a sampled interview of a self-described ‘economic hitman’ describing the calculated methods employed by international corporations to send a poorer country into a position of debt, forcing it to sell its natural resources. It’s a fitting segue from there into ‘Plant Dem Seed’s bass-heavy skanking call to arms, Izzy’s focused rhymes trading places with Elf Transporter’s ragga-soul tinged choruses as the snare offbeats get thrown through delicious levels of delay against warm sub-bass murmurs, guest vocalist YT’s smooth delivery taking the spotlight midway in what’s easily one of the biggest dub-centred delights here.
‘Tell The World’ opts for an eerie hiphop creep as descending orchestral samples cling to clattering boom-bap rhythms, as Izzy and Elf Transporter add to the gritty drama with their counterpointing verses (“in the darkest places, I find the sweetest things”), before the second half sees the jangling keyboard line moving to the foreground as Elf Transporter’s weathered soul vocals add a feel that’s strangely weary sounding and comforting at the same time.
Elsewhere, ‘Shoot To Kill’ sees more contemporary UK bass music influences seeing in as grime-y synth stabs cling to vast bass drops, the velocity and tension of Elf Transporter and Izzy’s rapid-fire flow increasing in response to the streamlined clipped rhythms (“muck up, cover up, operation luck’s up”), before instrumental track ‘Always Was’ sees samples of indigenous Australian community leaders facing down companies and governments bent on forcing them off their traditional lands being placed over downtempo hiphop beats, Izzy’s ghostly background harmonies and mournful-sounding synth drones, in many senses offering up this album’s most confronting and impactful moment. It’s good to have Combat Wombat back on this excellent third album, and they’re needed more than ever.