Review Summary: Hi kids, do you like violence?
City Morgue have been steadily making moderately-sized waves for a little while on the scene now, and have managed to garner themselves quite the cult following during that time. Against all reasonable expectations, it appears there is a market for their particular style of rap-metal; one that dispenses with the cheese and gimmickry usually associated with the genre and instead offers listeners a grimey, heavy and uncompromising slice of trap for which no amount of brutality is too far. Comprising rappers SosMula and ZillaKami, City Morgue is a project borne out of the streets of NYC, and their music sees a fair amount of the city's hip-hop sound pumping through its steady basslines and crunching guitars. After a lengthy dispute with their label that saw the release of My Bloody America delayed for months on end, the record is finally here; the duo's fourth full-length, believe it or not, and it appears that they've not matured all that much in the meantime. But was anyone ever really expecting them to? Well, no, because 'immature' is basically a genre label for these upstanding gentlemen at this point. But, despite the fact they're still peddling the same wares, there's a worrying sense of complacency on My Bloody America that wasn't present on their previous albums. Everything feels drab and undercooked, and it lacks the heady dynamism of Hell Or High Water, As Good As Dead or Toxic Boogaloo. There are flashes of that transgressive energy that permeate their usual sound and gut-punch the listener with that good ol' viciousness, but sonically MBA occupies a space that doesn't plot a future trajectory for the outfit, or further the one they've already started traversing.
Drugs, guns, indiscriminate slaughter, criminal behaviour, antisocial clamouring, jaywalking (probably) and other assorted scallywag behaviour- it's all here and accounted for. Zilla's gravelly, yearning tone is offset by Mula and his menacing, high pitched drawl, but there isn't a great deal of distinction between the two as regards the content of their bars. A shame, since both rappers have proven in their solo careers that they are fully capable of transmitting their personal brand of hell, but here the individualism is all but lost in a slurry of threats and expletives. Also, it is painfully apparent that Mula carries this project. His ability is the more memorable and most pervasive on the record, and his creative (although admittedly unusual) verse on 'Pros' is an album standout. Nonetheless, the intended overall effect of menace and extremity is communicated flawlessly. Novel additions such as the composite trilling on the first two tracks that mimic alarm whines do a great deal to cement the sense of criminality and dread, and when the release takes a left turn and goes down the horror route on tracks like 'Haha Woo' and 'Wicked', the collection shines like fresh blood under moonlight. Downtempo yet still bludgeoning, the former is unsettling with its use of a hook in the foreground of the bass and distortion, complemented by forceful and confrontational lyrics. It's in matching this kind of energy that Mula really gets into his groove, as his vocal tone perfectly suits the intense, even evil vibe on display here. Zilla is given a fleeting centre stage shot too, with choice cut 'Vacant' giving him an opportunity to lead the chorus- against some '80's style record scratches, no less- and he gives a slight vulnerable edge to counter Mula's stone-cold nihilism. There is an odd issue with the vocal mixes here though, with aspects that feel like they should dominate against the production crushed down to the back of the mix. The imbalance is accentuated due to the album's overall loudness, and production feels rushed as a result. Ironic, considering the lengthy delay.
In the gap between albums it is clear that CM have attempted to branch out ever so slightly when it comes to production choices. Instrumentation has been expanded, with more prominent use of strings utilised and a more deft sense of balance between the rap/ rock facets on display. It still retains the same aesthetic overall, however, and it is on the tracks that lapse into the more bland trap stylistics that the record starts to chug like a motor needing to go up a gear. 'Welcome To The Hatman' and 'Russian' are prime examples of this complacency, and although they assert the distinctive CM style with head-bobbing hooks and the sleazy, violent attitude, they're simply not that engaging. Conversely, the moments with a heavier rock influence, such as 'Boy In The Box', 'Funny', and 'Stupid Games', work decently, but it would be nice to see more creative guitar passages rather than just open strings or power chords. 'Boy In The Box' has a groovy riff and moody chorus that captures the serious tone of the outfit well, and the electronic fluxes against the riffs on 'Funny' are idiosyncratic but play into the eccentricity of the band's image. 'Stupid Games', with its crusty punk aesthetic, plays a dangerous game trying to square this scrappiness with the trap sound. Cyclical plucks create a makeshift strobe effect alongside the lyrics, which is creatively implemented but ultimately distracting. The result feels like there's a little too much at play at one time, and the piece is noisy without a great deal of direction. Despite this, the cut at least offers more than the blandness of a by-numbers trap tune, and CM should be applauded for the attempted expanse in sound. It's not quite fully realized yet, but the effort is surely appreciated.
My Bloody America offers much the same as its forebears, but whether due to the poor mixing, underdeveloped songwriting, or both, the collection feels like lukewarm annoyance to its predecessors' boiling rage. There are very few tracks here that feel like standouts in the duo's history, and whilst there are most definitely moments of that distinctive, nasty energy, they feel phoned in and less outrageous than they once were. There is nothing here nearly as exciting as 'Hurtworld '99', as enduring as 'The Balloons', as vicious as 'Soul Burn' or as varied as 'Draino'. The record is a plod, and although Mula does an admirable job attempting to keep the project afloat, his contribution is countered by what feels like a need to include everything into the selection, resulting in a one-note but sloppy record that isn't quite all his. With Zilla's solo release Dog Boy and Mula's most recent 2 High 2 Die, they were given their own creative spaces, allowing them to flex the aspects of the music they wish to explore most. The confluence of both of their tastes, although similar, clashes in unpleasant ways this go round, and although this merging has worked previously, the apparent lack of ideas here indicates a possible creative watershed it might be hard to emerge from. It's certainly not terrible, but it is definitely bland overall, and lacks the creative flourishes that made their former efforts, both solo and collaborative, so memorable.