Cannibal Ox – Blade of the Ronin (IGC Records; 2015)
There’s no denying Harlem-based duo Cannibal Ox’s importance; The Cold Vein, now 14 years old, remains a creative high point in underground hip hop thanks to its heady, Martian lyricism and El-P’s now-signature industrial-tinged production. Blade of the Ronin, the duo’s first release since, is curiously vanilla by comparison. With no trace of El-P in sight, Blade of the Ronin finds rappers Vordul Mega and Vast Aire trading in the experimental edge that defined them for a stark yet uniformly inoffensive sound that works against their strengths. While producer Bill Cosmiq does his damndest to build a tense, clanging atmosphere, the results are distinctly lacking in personality, often adhering to rote boom bap formula. Even Vordul Mega, the duo’s more verbose and less dynamic half, somehow doubles down on the monotony, muttering his way through verses as if half asleep. Just like Deltron 3030’s Event 2, Blade of the Ronin serves as a welcome reminder that some things are better in theory than practice.
Trial Track: “Psalm 82”