Beautiful Death Machine is the eighth studio album by the Vancouver, British Columbia rap group, Swollen Members. I must admit, up until recently I hadn’t paid much attention to the group since their 1999 debut, Balance. It was one of my favorite underground hip-hop albums from that year, but in the 14-year interim I’ve missed a lot of material. Needless to say, I wasn’t sure what to expect from this album.
After the initial spin though, it becomes apparent that this is the type of record requires complete attention and repeated plays to fully sink in. Emcees Madchild and Prevail spit crazy-provocative lyricism that pierces the cerebrum; while Rob The Viking twists-up mesmerizing, neck-snapping beats. The whole thing is dark, perverse and completely unshakeable.
There are times where Rob The Viking lends the sound some elasticity beyond hip-hop, but ultimately they end up being the album’s weakest moments. Initially the dubstep excursion, “Juggernaut” is captivating—especially the breakdown that drops during Madchild’s first verse—but when the hook comes in the novelty begins to wear-off. By the time Madchild hits his second verse, I find myself hitting the FF button. But make no mistake about it; Rob The Vikings is a masterful beatsmith. Songs like “King of Diamonds”, “Mercenary” and “Death Warrant”—complete with sample-based loops and spotless turntablism—are thundering testaments to the lasting power of boom-bap.
Although it’s Rob’s overall vision that gives Beautiful Death Machine a thematic disposition, he’s not the sole producer. C-Lance, the Boston-based producer who’s made a name for himself behind the boards of Jedi Mind Tricks, La Coka Nostra, and Heavy Metal Kings, contributes several beats. His signature ominous, orchestral, heavily-percussed production backs some of the album’s best songs—“Bax War” and “River Monster” included.
Both lyrically and in delivery, the two emcees are completely on point throughout the entire record. This is clearly a focused attempt to snatch rap supremacy by the throat and strangle it into submission. There are a couple notable guest lyricists as well. Vinnie Paz, Slaine and Ill Bill appear on “Death To You.” And Esoteric, Celph Titled and Apathy join the party on the aptly-titled “Colossal Beasts.” Oftentimes features can overshadow residential emcees, but that’s not the case with either of these songs. Aside from Celph Titled—whose hulking presence is always a bit overbearing—the rest of the guests’ verses come across complimentary rather than as an intrusion. Madchild and Prevail rhyming alongside La Coka Nostra and Demigodz sounds so natural that it wouldn’t be surprising if they formed sort of super-supergroup in the future.
Having spent a considerable amount of time with this now, I can attest to Beautiful Death Machine being the type of record that grows more intriguing and enjoyable with each listen. It’s clear Swollen Members have created a sinister brand of rap music that’s as impressive as it is durable.
7.5 / 10
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