w/Abstract Rude, Mr. Dibbs (of Atmosphere), the Saturday Knights
Thurs Feb 17, Neumo's, 9 pm, $8 adv./$10 DOS.
The first track on Grayskul's long-awaited debut Deadlivers, "Behold," opens impressively with this line: "If ever there was a time in your life to be afraid/ I think this qualifies as the most terrifying of days." The rapper who delivers this line (or blow, as it's said with great force), Reason, captures perfectly the tone and character of our current political climate. These are the most terrifying of days. It feels as if anarchy is now unleashed upon the world, and everywhere the ceremony of innocence is drowned. Our best politicians lack all convictions, while our worst are full of passionate intensity. This is the state of things, and Deadlivers mirrors that condition.
At 17 tracks, Deadlivers offers no skits, but does spotlight a number of collaborations. It showcases guest performances by underground hiphop emcees Aesop Rock, Mr. Lif, and Canibus, and by Rob Hampton (formerly of the New Mexicans). Most of the music is produced by local beat creator Mr. Hill, with contributions from Fakts One (Mr. Lif's DJ), Bean One, and Rob Castro. The heart of the group comprises rappers Onry Ozzborn and JFK and bassist Rob Castro, and on Deadlivers, the emcees assume the roles of Reason and Recluse, respectively. Grayskul are also part of Oldominion, a trans-city (Seattle and Portland) collective of rappers, DJs, and producers who have been together since 1998, releasing albums primarily on Stuck Records.
The Oldominion network has produced two great CDs, One and Alone, but Grayskul's Deadlivers--on the Minneapolis-based label Rhymesayers (Atmosphere, MF Doom)--is the collective's first masterwork. One reason for the CD's success is the very simple fact that Oldominion's gothic aesthetic has finally found a home. Before 9/11, before the reign of Bush the Second, before Iraq, Afghanistan, the 2004 presidential elections, and the climatic tsunami, Oldominion's preoccupations with vampires, sea monsters, and supernatural violence seemed out of place and time. Seattle and Portland were prosperous cities in the middle of tremendous construction booms, and few were in the mood to hear about the underworld and madness. But now gory, gloomy imagery is omnipresent in the media, and Deadlivers is the latest and most fully realized expression of Oldominion's aesthetic.
"In a perfect world there wouldn't be a need for Grayskul/ …In a perfect world there wouldn't be a need for Oldominion--a soul position, a search for higher definition/ …but in this world that is anything but perfect, a silent war brews, [it is] a circus on Earth's surface," raps Recluse on the title track. The more imperfect the world is, the more perfect Grayskul's record sounds. The beats are heavy, operatic, with background string and horn loops that would be gray and black if translated into the visual terms of cinema. Like all of Oldominion's works, Deadlivers is a heady concentration of Marvel comic books, gothic literature, B-rate horror movies, and post-Blade Runner science fiction.
"There are so many of us, there are so many of us, there are so many of us," chant 17 members of the Oldominion crew at the opening of Deadlivers' final track, "Secret Wars." This is an apocalyptic throwdown, with each emcee offering a completely different vision of monstrous powers ("I spit glass shards from my mouth") and urban gloom ("Seattle light night"). As they rap, we hear the disruptive sound effects of army helicopters whirling in the smoky sky, cars crashing into other cars, the sickly whistle of missiles hitting enemy targets, computer scientists typing the codes of globally spread viruses, and a man in a Seattle basement slowly lifting "hella weights" and listening to Slayer while "hell awaits." Not one rapper misses a beat; all bring to Mr. Hill's anxiety-saturated track the urgency of a superhero trying to defuse a bomb in the final, ticking seconds before it explodes.
There are literary critics who connect the rise of the gothic novel with the spirit of the French revolution, and argue that the genre's standard imagery of ruins, haunted castles, mad scientists, and excessive violence was liberating, transgressive, and challenged the ruling order of the 18th century. In this way, we can see Grayskul's gothic terrors and horrors not only as a reflection of a world that is seemingly more horrific and terrifying, but as truly revolutionary. Their music challenges the present Christian death machine with powers that are drawn from the first rebel, the first insurgent, the Prince of Darkness.