Parallel Universe is generally considered to be the second-best drum 'n bass album ever recorded (the top spot goes to Goldie's Timeless LP, also released in 1995), most likely for two reasons. The first is due to its out-of-print status for most of its existence, having first been released on the late Reinforced Records and then reissued on the similarly ill-fated Crammed Discs label. Its absence during jungle's peak years (1994-1997) simply didn't allow enough people to hear it and gave ample opportunity for Goldie and Roni Size to blitz dancefloors worldwide.
The second reason has to do with the album's fey science-fiction theme, which is more Sylvia Browne than Orson Scott Card. Timeless had its sights set on the cosmos, but beneath the otherworldly atmosphere was the soul of hardcore jungle--a direction that Goldie would later fully embrace. Parallel Universe, by contrast, makes no bones about its mystic sci-fi inclinations or those inclinations' inability to jive with mainstream audiences. Where Goldie came off as a mad junglist trying his hand at prettiness, 4hero (the duo of Marc Clair and Dego MacFarlane) sound like kids raised on astrology and mysticism who one day stumbled upon jungle.
So it's no small wonder how natural their craft seems to come to them. Placed sonically between their early hardcore 7" singles ("Mr. Kirk's Nightmare") and their later overcooked fusion bombs (Creating Patterns, their latest LP), Parallel Universe seamlessly blends toughness and loveliness for an equally head-nodding and soul-searching musical trip. The intricacy of 4hero's breakbeats has thus far been unmatched by anyone in the field, period. The beats aren't especially fast, but what's speed anyway? You don't see Designs & Mistakes on any Top 10 lists, do you? Like Q-Tip and Phife Dawg's rhyming, the stress of the beats is on fluidity and interplay.
With the exception of the beautifully nocturnal "Universal Love," most of the tracks on Parallel Universe tend to be similar in structure. Usually five minutes in length, they begin with a soft, simple keyboard line or an oblique vocal sample before launching into dynamic, stuttering breakbeats. Then, about three minutes in, a beautiful pad synthesizer swoons and joins the breaks for a profoundly spiritual minute-and-a-half before disappearing and letting the drums take the song to the finish line. It's a formula, but oh, what a formula it is, and hearing the formula played out in different contexts gives one the sense of it's utter perfection--a bit like the human circulatory system. This makes Parallel Universe more focused and precise than Timeless, without the feeling that Dego and Marc are overexerting themselves.
Finally, 4hero understood what Jan Jelinek understood when he recorded Loop-Finding-Jazz-Records: subtlety is everything. With its syncopated chimes and slanted synth swabs, Parallel Universe winks at jazz without ever stating it explicitly. It's a modus operandi that 4hero apparently forgot when they recorded the slick, bloated Two Pages three years later and Creating Patterns after another three. On those albums, their new age inclinations became more burdensome than endearing, with a mess of stringed, brass and electronic instruments forming "jazz" in quotations that always threatened to implode in on itself. In a way, Parallel Universe serves to remind us of a purer time for drum 'n bass, before the jazz-fusion monster even became a valid issue. In a perfect world--nay, universe--where the stars are aligned and the nights are always crisp and sweet, Parallel Universe would be the single best drum 'n bass album ever to see the light of day.