As Grayskul, Oldominion members Onry Ozzborn, JFK and bassist Rob Castro swim in the dank, murky end of underground hip-hop, occasionally surfacing to exude utter silliness and crib a whole lot from Cannibal Ox (DJ Cip One even busts some scratches here). The Seattle-based group will cite Can Ox and Wu-Tang as influences — the first few seconds Deadlivers seem like an easier-to-swallow translation of The Cold Vein‘s opener — but the album’s moments of dreary greatness are tucked in between occasional filler and comic book “voices in my head” perspective.
Onry and JFK change their names for the occasion, going by Reason and Recluse on Deadlivers. Gloomy minor-key backdrops make for a Tim Burton-esque atmosphere throughout the record, and production credits are rather split. All but six tracks can be attributed to another Seattle head, Mr. Hill, but high points “Behold” and “Cursive” (which features Mr. Lif) belong to Lif’s DJ Fakts One. A couple tracks are the work of Grayskul’s core members, and like most of the record, they definitely stay within the realm of dark, RZA-type creepiness.
The guest spots range from Aesop Rock (as Bazooka Tooth), who nearly steals the show on “Once Upon a Time,” to a horrible Linkin Park-type screaming chorus from Rob Hampton of the New Mexicans. Each subsequent listen of Deadlivers helps highlight all the tweaks that flow in and out of the background; the subtle sound effects and disturbances that may go unnoticed definitely shouldn’t. The Grayskul frontmen bounce off each other with great skill and sometimes demon speed.
And although the heavy-handed, dark content of the lyrics gets to be a bit much at times, Reason and Recluse often spit hyped, intricate rhymes, seemingly borrowed from the word boxes of a multitude of graphic novels. Like graphic novels, the finished product is quite polished and technically advanced. When this polish, along with the “Mom, I’m really messed up” inwardness, doesn’t detract from the earthly underground authenticity, it’s quite good. By the power of Grayskul, bitches — the first step is getting the voices out of their heads.