Outshined in the darkness

Swollen Members’ new record relies on the guest stars

Megan Kadrmas

Swollen Members are back, bringing with them their signature dark lyrics and heavy hip-hop beats.

The album is full of references to murder, drugs, depression and evil – with song titles such as “Torture” and “Prisoner of Doom” to reflect this bleak outlook.

In “The Grind,” Mad Child sheds some light on the group’s dark outlook when he says, “But there’s no rainbow, people are painful / evil and angry, abused and afraid / So I mend broken heart, make art and pray.”

Fans who have followed the group since their 2001 “Bad Dreams” album will be familiar with the depressing lyrics.

However, Swollen Members stop short of differentiating themselves from other hip-hop groups by also rapping about money, women and fame. These themes are repeated time and time again throughout the hip-hop community and Swollen Members do not present these themes in any kind of a unique way.

For example, in “So Deadly,” which has a beat and chorus as mainstream as its lyrics, Mad Child says, “I got a mistress and a mistress for my mistress / My main girl gets an X-5 for Christmas / Tried just one but they’re all so delicious.”

The generic way Swollen Members choose to present all of their topics, from the dark to the cliché, are expected and have been done before.

The best part of this album, as in past efforts, is Mad Child’s voice. It’s the group’s love-it-or-hate-it trademark, and in “Black Magic” he stands out from the beats and other vocalists.

But his partner, Prevail, has a forgettable voice with matching lyrics. His parts tend to fade into the background and make you yearn for Mad Child’s return to the mic.

A few of the tracks, such as “Pressure” and “Too Hot,” do have attention-grabbing beats. Rob the Viking, the group’s DJ, selects unexpected music samples to turn into bass-heavy beats.

In “Pressure,” the beat starts off as a familiar yet unidentifiable whistle before transforming into a booming melody laced with just-enough bass. Although the lyrics in this song are nothing special, they match the fun beat and its shadowy, whimsical nature.

The guest performances on “Black Magic” really stand out. Over half of the 20 tracks on the album feature one or more guests, adding spice just when the ear is about to tune out.

Notably, Ghostface Killah of the Wu Tang Clan guest stars on one of the best tracks, “Weight.” Ghostface, along with fellow guest The Alchemist, steals the spotlight from Swollen Members on this one.

Ghostface is a veteran of the hip-hop game and his lyrics show his musical maturity. In “Weight,” Ghostface leads off with the first verse, demonstrating to the younger rappers how to make their lyrics break with the beat and how to have darkly fun lyrics.

But it isn’t good to notice the guests before the group, and this happens repeatedly, including “Swampwater” and “Torture.”

“Black Magic” won’t win Swollen Members any new admirers, but, because of the similarities to previous albums, it will keep the devoted fans content.