Artist: Swollen MembersTitle: Black MagicRating: 3 StarsReviewed by: Alex Thornton
Despite commercial and critical successes in Canada, Swollen Members remain firmly in the “underground” category in the United States. Even on their home field, the crew is releasing Black Magic (Battle Axe) on less than firm footing; their last album, Heavy, was received so poorly that the group’s official website doesn’t acknowledge its existence. Two years later, Swollen Members attempts to not only restore faith amongst their base but branch out further into the American scene as well.
Black Magic is unlikely to reach those goals, largely due to a lack of direction in the majority of the songs. While MCs Mad Child and Prevail are competent at stringing words together, far too many tracks are simply the duo rapping about being dope rappers. The uninitiated may quickly become bored with hearing them lay claim to greatness without actually displaying any. While the two are vocally distinct, their lyrics are more or less interchangeable and sometimes too complex for their own good. The lyricists also manage to get repeatedly upstaged by their many guests (especially Ghostface Killah and The Alchemist on “Weight”) and don’t warrant any rewinds on their own. Meanwhile, producer Rob the Viking’s beats feel like uneven attempts to catch on to the Linkin Park audience.
It isn’t until the second half of the album that a few songs begin to stick out. The DJ Babu assisted “Too Hot” changes the tempo noticeably and the track has enough energy to make up for the incessant “We’re on top” rhymes. Mad Child and Prevail finally try picking subjects for the individual songs near the end, and while women (“Put Me On”) and weed (“Dynamite”) are hardly new ground, by this point in the overlong album, they earn points for effort if nothing else. Still, having to wade through so many so-so battle raps to get to the substance is frustrating.
Swollen Members have turned back in the right direction, but haven’t taken many steps as the elements of Black Magic just don’t come together. The crew may have cracked under the pressure or worse, simply run out of things to say, but neither excuse makes the results any better. They certainly put effort into the album, but perhaps too much. True, Black Magic doesn’t dig the hole any deeper than Heavy did, but it won’t help them climb out either.