Remember Skrillex? Love him or hate him, you cannot deny the massive impact his specific brand of electronic music brought upon the mainstream. From iconic tracks such as “Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites,” “Bangarang” and “First of the Year (Equinox)” to his work with artists such as A$AP Rocky and Justin Bieber, Skrillex dominated the first half of the 2010s. To the delight of electronic music fans and the horror of parents, he has returned with “Quest for Fire.” The first of two releases planned for this year, this is Skrillex’s first full-length album since his collaborative effort with Diplo in 2015, “Skrillex and Diplo Present Jack Ü.”
“Quest for Fire” feels like an attempt to rekindle the flame of EDM in the mainstream. Featuring a slew of over 20 artists with a variety of musical backgrounds across 15 tracks, this album has a clear sense of community.
While “Quest for Fire” is largely built around the sounds of trap and dubstep, Skrillex utilizes numerous other electronic music genres on individual songs. The opening track, “Leave Me Like This,” is a prime example. Hypnotic vocals from Bobby Raps are placed at the forefront of a dark, entrancing house beat. It’s repetitive in all the best ways.
“RATATA” showcases Missy Elliott in top form as she spits nonstop over skittering synths and what sounds like water dripping from a faucet. If you couldn’t tell from the first two songs, Skrillex’s sound design remains some of the best in his class.
Skrillex continues to bring the heat for the first half of “Quest for Fire.” The menacing “Tears” features UK drill-inspired rhythms and atmospheric vocal chops. “Inhale Exhale” is relentless. The song feels created purely for its drops, but because they are so well-crafted, the other sections are elevated, building anticipation and suspense.
“XENA,” featuring Arabic vocals from Nai Barghouti, gave me the sense that I was being chased (in a good way, of course). The call and response between Barghouti’s vocals and the track’s chaotic percussion rhythms towards the end is pulled off incredibly well.
Unfortunately, “XENA” is (mostly) where my praise of this album ends. “TOO BIZARRE (juked)” with its festival-ready sound feels very out of place following the previous batch of songs. Swae Lee’s performance on the track also takes some getting used to.
By the time “Good Space” finishes, two things about this album become clear. The first is that “Quest for Fire’s” second half contains more radio-friendly, safe stylings. The second is that when it comes to fresh ideas, Skrillex seems to be running out of fuel. “Good Space’s” drop is uncannily similar to that of “Face My Fears,” a song he created with Hikaru Utada in 2019. For most of the latter half, songs come and go without leaving much of an impact or establishing a unique identity among the rest of the track list.
Thankfully, Skrillex finds a bit of a spark in the end. “Hazel Theme” is simply pretty, sounding like the light at the end of a tunnel and providing an excellent contrast in sound. It then transitions perfectly into the album’s closing track, “Still Here (with the ones that I came with).” This feels like a heartfelt celebration of Skrillex’s career as well as a touching tribute to his friends. Its two main vocal passages, courtesy of Snoh Aalegra and Bibi Bourelly, mix together perfectly with a thumping garage beat. Ethereal backing vocals and a synth passage that could have come straight from 2011 completes the mix.
Yes, “Quest for Fire” boasts a good amount of quality tracks, especially in its first half. Skrillex’s progression as an artist is on full display. However, as a complete album experience, this album is simply alright. If nothing else, I am happy Skrillex is back.