In the ten months since ‘Manifesto : Day 1’, ENHYPEN have experienced life as global artists for the first time – embarking on their first world tour, attending Milan Fashion Week and participating in prominent K-pop festivals, from Music Bank in Paris to headlining Las Vegas’ We Bridge Expo 2023. After all that, the septet are finally ready to usher in a new era with their fourth mini-album, ‘Dark Blood’. The first installment of the so-called ‘Blood’ series, it marks a return to the group’s story-driven beginnings, fully embracing their narrative as K-pop’s smoothest vampires.
- READ MORE: Head In The Clouds New York review: 88rising comes home in style at globe-hopping festival
While the mythical creatures were only alluded to in previous releases (like debut single ‘Given-Taken’ and 2021’s hazy ‘Drunk-Dazed’), title track ‘Bite Me’ leaves no doubts. “If you’re going to save me / Just come kiss me and bite me,” they plead in the chorus. But like any fantastic tale, there is some poison within. ‘Bite Me’ is laced with the best of early-’00s boyband pop, with an addictive “Oh my, oh my God” hook and a compelling refrain, but its pre-chorus stalls the momentum. Barging in like the villain in a Disney movie, it ends the fun way too soon. There’s no bridge, no final chorus, just an eerie fade out that leaves us wanting more.
But that’s where ENHYPEN challenge us, as they have done with all their title tracks recently. 2022’s ‘Blessed-Cursed’ was their last single to feature a hyphen, and the first to not feature a bridge. ‘Future Perfect (Pass the MIC)’ and ‘Bite Me’ continue this legacy, as if the lack of the hyphen translates into a sonic absence and disconnect, too. “Come to me, make it right / Please connect me again,” they beg in the latter.
Whether this is a clever choice or an uncanny coincidence, it does add to the fact that ENHYPEN’s lore is inextricable from their music. For better or for worse, it invites a different approach when listening to their albums, considering not only the music itself, but also the larger narrative being communicated through it. And ‘Dark Blood’ – which also serves as a complement to HYBE’s ENHYPEN-based webtoon Dark Moon: The Blood Altar – runs thicker and deeper than anything they released before.
Opening song ‘Fate’ introduces this somber journey with Renaissance-like harp chords and a momentous verve. After a contextualizing narration, the members realize it’s their destiny to “follow this blood sign, at the end of the road / to dedicate myself to you” The vampiric, waiving motifs continue through the title track and its two inebriating follow-ups: ‘Sacrifice (Eat Me Up)’ and ‘Chaconne’.
While in the first one they relinquish all power under an intriguing dark reggae rhythm (“I dedicate to you my life / Drink my flesh and blood, babe / This bliss sacrificed by fate,” they sing), the dusky ‘Chaconne’ brings a descent into madness, where the group sees themselves as monsters, “dancing the dance of death / drunk with arrogance”.
It’s up to the last two tracks to showcase a glimpse of light – and echoes of ENHYPEN’s past. The dreamy ‘Bills’, which stands out as the most sonically distinct in the album, employs lo-fi hip-hop beats and allows the members’ sensible vocals to shine, working like an indie third sibling to feel-good hits ‘Polaroid Love’ and ‘TFW (That Feeling When)’. Meanwhile, closing track ‘Karma’ is the group’s standard but reliable rock effort, borrowing guitar riffs from last year’s ‘Shout Out’ and even one of its producers, Waveshower.
As a storytelling device, it’s clear that ‘Dark Blood’ is just the beginning. It leaves enough open threads for the upcoming chapters to develop, and doesn’t dive deep into any conclusions about its characters’ futures — or fates. Musically, this might be ENHYPEN’s most cohesive work so far, but some of the production choices play it safe when they could have been as bold as the graphic imagery they carry in the lyrics. ‘Dark Blood’ is at its best when it draws from the underworld: unafraid to bleed, to beg and to be born anew.
- Release date: May 22, 2023
- Record label: Belift Lab, HYBE