Review Summary: A glimpse into deeper recesses of Sadistik's psyche than ever before
‘Altars’, the highly anticipated fourth full-length LP from alt-rap cult leader Sadistik is his most immersive, complex and angry project to date. Recorded over a two year transitional period in the emcee's life, in his own words, ‘Altars’ became his world. We, the listener, are afforded a glimpse into deeper recesses of Sadistik's psyche than ever before – and as such it doesn’t gratify instantly or easily, but rewards repeated listens.
‘Voodoo Dali’ is the album's opener and mission statement, setting the rebellious tone whilst displaying a mix of Lupe Fiasco inspired wordplay and his own brand of deft, dexterous lyricism. ‘God Complex’ and ‘Free Spirits’ – the two singles released prior to the album – serve as gateway drugs, hinting at what is to come. They also showcase Sadistik’s evolving craft of writing singles and hooks, displaying tighter and more deliberate lyricism in a similar vein to many of the songs on ‘Phantom Limbs’, his 2015 EP with Kno.
‘Roaches’ takes us far deeper into the pit of despair and alienation – and we're going to stay there a while. Sadistik portrays a bleak and unrelenting world akin to a nuclear winter, taking exception to the ‘roaches’ and ‘maggots’ attempts to get under his skin. He continues the theme with ‘Honeycomb’ – the best song on the album, which continues the defiant, insurgent theme but with a lighter, more vibrant feel. The sung outro to the song reinforces the palpable sense of loneliness and disconnection, and that’s amplified by ‘Cotard Syndrome’ – a stark and powerful song about feeling ‘dead in the head’ following the passing of both his father and close friend Michael Larsen. The ending of this song takes us to the bottom of the rabbithole; Sadistik’s soul laid bare, lost in a sea of gloom and monsters.
Sadistik’s lyrical daggers are aimed squarely at religion for ‘Salem Witches’ and ‘Sacrifice', with the latter drawing most blood. Both tracks succeed in exposing the hypocrisy of religion, but the frequent shots taken against creed and clergy in the preceding 6 tracks detracts somewhat from their potency as there is a sense of old ground being re-trodden.
Kristoff Krane and P.O.S help Sadistik get out of his own head on the next two tracks, helping him focus on what he is instead of rebelling against what he isn’t – namely ‘Water' and ‘Molecules'. These tracks provide a much needed counter-balance to the angst and disillusionment that came before it, and P.O.S' laid back, conversational tone neatly contrasts with Krane's dense, complicated prose.
‘Kaleidoscope’ provides the album's sole moment of triumph, and hints at a light at the end of the tunnel. Despite all the angst, agony and alienation, Sadistik accepts them as part of the kaleidoscope of life, and he celebrates summoning the courage to lay them bare on this album:
“Light hurt my eyes so I sewed them shut, pearl inside but won’t open up
Turpentine in that ocean front, let’s burn alive till the smoke erupts”.
‘Silhouettes' is a beautiful closer that brings the album back full circle, to an artist trying to find his place in a strange, unsettling world painting visceral pictures with poetic wordplay. There’s no happy ending though:
“They told us we could be anything – they always lie through their teeth
They told us we could chase any dream – and then we died in our sleep”.
It’s an appropriately melancholy note to finish on with an album that takes the listener on a dark and uncomfortable journey. ‘Altars' is a challenging, but cathartic listen that rewards engagement and multiple listens. Sadistik's lyricism here is more cryptic and more pointed than previous efforts, and because of that, ‘Altars’ can feel less confessional and less lyrically ostentatious in comparison. However, it’s undeniably a piece of art – from the cover to the final hook – and the depth of feeling and passion the project evokes stays with the listener long after the record stops playing.