Monday, October 21, 2013

album review: 'kill the architect' by cage

As I've said a number of times in the past, I've long been getting sick of musical acts trying to shock or scare me. Maybe it's an issue of maturity or desensitization or the fact that by now I think I've been exposed to so many acts who base their entire appeal off of a narrow 'shock' spectrum, but most of these acts just do nothing to really get under my skin anymore. I mean, once you start listening to black metal, with acts that might genuinely be monstrous people, you pretty much have hit the absolute extreme of material designed to shock and intimidate. On top of that, most of these bands tend to go for the same subject material - pseudo-goth torture porn with mild flirtations with sexual violence or maybe a stint in the insane asylum.

That being said, there are a few acts that have managed to get under my skin in a good way. Eminem always springs to mind, particularly his older stuff and especially The Marshall Mathers LP, mostly because there's always the sick undercurrent that there might be some vestige of truth in his story (and the fact that Eminem sold that material incredibly well). More recently this year, I reviewed The Terror by The Flaming Lips, an incredible album that manages to scare the hell out of me every time I listen to it, mostly because it opts for psychological horror and nails it effectively. What these two albums have in common is something that seems to finally be coming back in the horror film genre these days: subtlety and pacing, the type of horror that relies on your imagination to do the dirty work and is designed to build tension with what you don't know and can't see. It's a real shame you don't see more artists - particularly horrorcore rap artists - going in this direction - but I'm not surprised they don't: it's tough to create the right atmosphere without relying on cheap jump scares or graphic subject matter. Hell, many people would argue when Eminem made Relapse that he was relying on these to make the album 'scary' (which completely misses the point of Relapse, but that's a conversation for a later day).

So let's talk about a rapper who has often been compared to Eminem and who once feuded with him, a New York horrorcore rapper named Cage. Like Eminem, he was an extremely skilled white rapper who drew on his life to fuel the darkness of his songs - yet unlike Eminem, there was a lot more significant trauma to Cage to utilize. Between drug abuse at an early age, expulsion from school, a stint at a military base in Germany, repeated beatings from his stepfather, and sixteen hellish months spent in a psychiatric hospital, Cage had more than enough terrifying material to draw upon, most of which came into sharp view on his superb 2005 album Hell's Winter. But after a disappointing and lackluster rap rock experiment in 2009 with Depart from Me, where Cage tried (and mostly failed) to incorporate elements of hardcore punk into his record, Cage has been rather quiet, only showing up in a short horror film backed by Kid Cudi (and directed by Shia LaBoeuf) in 2011. That was until this year, where he has dropped a new album titled Kill The Architect, and really, it couldn't have come at a better time, with darker rap becoming more popular in the mainstream with the onset of trap and his old rival Eminem dropping an album in a few weeks. So how does Cage's new record measure up?

It doesn't. Ugh, this was a disappointment, because Cage's Kill The Architect is starkly, frustratingly mediocre. It's an album that shows a marked drop-off in quality and not even in a way that's particularly interesting. To put it another way, if Cage wants to be compared to Eminem again, this is Cage's Encore, and I mean that in more ways than one. This is an album about depression and self-destruction, and the parallels between this album and Eminem's misguided 2004 record are a little startling - shame that's probably the only thing 'shocking' about this record at all.

Let's begin with the biggest problem: Cage himself. Now, this guy is a technically skilled rapper, and in the past, he's delivered his verses with a fair amount of energy and menace, belying the nasty grimy darkness of his songs. Yeah, pitch all of that out the window for this album, because we have yet another rapper jumping on the 'deliver all rhymes with little-to-no emotion' bandwagon, and man, it backfires here. It's a striking contrast between the hardcore punk elements on the last record, as Cage delivers rhymes like he's half-asleep, drunk, stoned, or all three. I'm not going to deny that it fits the mood of the album at points - I'll come back to this - it sure as hell isn't engaging, particularly considering most of the content of the rhymes isn't all that special, or unique. Sure, there's elements of Cage's punk attitudes, but there's a lot more bitter contempt and depression on display here, where even he's rapping about how anarchy has become watered down (if you told that to Black Flag, they'd probably slug you, and frankly, I'm not sure I'd blame them). The interesting points on this album are when Cage actually seems to get a little angry about something, like 'In Your Fur', which attacks a woman for wearing fur but seems to do it out of raw spite rather than any sort of animal right fervor.

But this just illustrates another problem with this album: outside of broad punk-inspired themes and a couple jabs at religion (by making the obvious comparisons with cults, to which he also compares hip-hop fanbases), this album is incredibly unfocused. It seems that Cage is angry at something or someone - or more bitterly resentful, given the lack of real explosive moments - but he doesn't have a coherent target for that anger and thus more often than not it turns inwards. And what's striking is that he doesn't really reference his troubled history anymore, instead talking about doing entirely too much drugs and his lousy sex life. I'll give him points for referencing some real emotion behind the fact that he knows some of the women he's slept with aborted his kids - that's dark, and I could see that link to his depression - but more often than not the album comes across with lines like 'it wasn't supposed to be this way'. And I can see that - Cage was probably hoping to be successful like Eminem and rise out of the underground... except it never happened. I can understand being angry about that, considering Cage is now near his 40s, but none of that anger really materializes besides nihilistic resentment, and I'll say the same thing I said about Trent Reznor back when I reviewed Hesitation Marks: if you don't switch up your subject material or bring some variety or deeper insight, nihilistic art gets really boring really fast. Bizarrely, that's not the only parallel I can make to Nine Inch Nails with this album - the song 'They Suck' seems to be inspired lyrically by 'Starfuckers Inc.' from The Fragile, but while Reznor was targeting the shallow industry in that overwrought mess of a song, 'They Suck' has more than a few jealous glances at the pedestal of actually 'making it'.

It's a shame that Cage didn't appropriate any of Reznor's production or instrumentation, though, because the beats he uses for this album are really a mixed bag. There's some decent production and a few ominous vibes that do a fair bit for the atmosphere (namely on 'Precipiss', 'In Your Fur', 'You Were The Shit (In High School) and 'Fuck This Game'), but the sampled fuzz-laden guitars sound sloppier than they should, and elements intended to sound off-putting and discordant more often come across as poorly chosen. And while there are a few keyboard segments I did like (notably on 'This Place'), the majority of the beats sound watery, turgid, and more than a little cheap. The absolute worst track on the album comes on 'I Don't Know You', which has a decent drum line but has an incredibly grating synth and echoing samples that make the song sound messy rather than complex. And to complete the Encore comparison on this track, Cage sings - or rather, tries to, because he's barely on key and sounds awful, and it's a really bad way to end the album.

So in the end, Cage's Kill The Architect can barely be recommended here. If you're looking for songs that are decent, well, 'You Were The Shit (In High School)' and 'This Place' were probably my favourites, but that's hardly a statement of quality when I'm dealing with this record. Frankly, I don't see a lot of Cage fans liking this album - it's nowhere near close to shocking, sounds not all that far removed instrumentally from modern hip-hop without a lot of the grit that made his early material interesting, and Cage sounds completely uninterested when he's not complaining. I really hate this term, especially considering I suspect this album is analogous to the midlife crisis that was Eminem's Encore, but at its core, this album is emo-rap and fits all of the connotations of that term. I'm giving this album a 5/10, and really, that feels generous. If you've never heard of Cage and are just interested in horrorcore rap, this album is not a good introduction point to him - go dig up Hell's Winter, because even at that album's darkest, bleakest, nastiest points, it's a lot better than this.


  1. extremely stupid, Watch Me is brutally honest for people that know.... and if you don't know you never will

    1. 'Watch Me' really isn't that deep, you know that, right? It's an anti-commercialism rant against the industry and cults of personality, and it's nothing that hasn't been done by underground rappers like Danny Brown (and more recently this year, by Kanye West on 'Yeezus') dozens of times. And coupled with the sloppy rhyming, lazy flow, and Cage's 'Don't Give A Fuck' delivery (which only makes him come across as a condescending ass and is chronically insincere with the rest of the album), the song might be honest, but it's not compelling, regardless of any pretensions it has to 'reality'.

  2. I think your review is pretty spot on. As flawed as the last couple Cage albums were, they weren't phoned in like this one.

  3. I can't believe this bullshit. You people are all fucking retarded. Everything that Cage does on this album is a complete return to his earlier style of work when he was straight killing shit. Movies For The Blind, For Your Box, Leak Bros, Night Hawks......are you fucking KIDDING ME. This album is an excellent blend of everything that Cage is about and represents. He expresses his disgust for the Emptiness of Society and how life just passes without purpose sometimes. He talks about using drugs to rewire your Brain Chemistry so that you can cope with life. He talks about his Heroin addiction and how it changed him. He talks about not just drugs, but INTELLIGENTLY about drugs "Separated from myself again, Ice Water pulling Tylenol out of the Vicodin".........he's talking about performing a Cold Water Extraction on Vicodin to remove the Acetominophen (Tylenol) from the pills so that he can take more of the drugs and not destroy his liver by taking too much Tylenol along with it. I honestly think after watching your review on Youtube, and seeing what people are saying here - if you don't like this Cage album, YOU DON'T KNOW CAGE, and the topics he's talking about are just over your head in general. I honestly don't even think this reviewer KNEW what the subject matter was that Cage was talking about on this LP. In my opinion, and I will admit I've been a Cage fan for a very long time, since back in the 90's - but I was Proud of Cage on this album. He took elements from every album that he EVER made, even his weakest album Depart From Me, and managed to blend them all together into an entirely new style that truly complements his progression as an Emcee and a Human Being. If you don't like this album, you don't like Cage that much in the first place, and you don't really get what Cage is all about. This album is a perfect representation of his TRUE style, not him trying to be what he thought his fan's or the public wanted from him. He's 1000% himself on this album, just as Hateful, Dark, and Trippy as ever. If you don't like it, you just don't get it, it's that plain and simple. I've had this shit on repeat since I got it. I've got one more quote for you and tell me this album isn't fucking ILL............from "Cursed"..........Escape from yourself til' you lose all your ends, Rather lose friends than Hallucinogens, Halloween Candy and Drugs to Feed You, Dead Rappers Ghost Write me words through a Ouija........! Are you fucking kidding me. That is one of THE hardest line's on any hip hop album ever. If you don't like this album, you're just being a hater and don't know shit. Keep doing you Cage. Fuck this Bullshit. Dude admits to liking Eminem and obviously has NO taste in true hip hop. I give this shit a 9/10 all day...........there are maybe 1 or 2 songs that got a little old kinda quick, but I can listen to this album on repeat all day and bump it. Take this cat's review with a grain of salt and check the album for yourself with an open mind. This guy would probably say that Eyedea & Abilities are wack or some shit.................Yea, and Eyedea isn't one of the best freestyle performers in the history of Hip Hop.............You don't know shit reviewer. Piss Off.