Death Grips: Ex-Military Review
The ever-prolific drummer/composer Zach Hill is back with yet another complex and vexing side-project – a punk-infused, Northern Californian big-beat rap group, aptly-titled Death Grips. Breaking off a piece of DNA from the in-your-face styles of P.O.S. and the otherworldly production style of Lazerbeark (for local reference), Death Grips set out to make one of the angriest, scummiest rap releases of the year and far surpassed that expectation, making 13 tracks of such abrasiveness it would make this hardhitters like Odd Future and Waka Flocka shutter with fear. Exmilitary is unflinchingly unapologetic in its delivery and the drum work and dusty samples make this release, production-wise, one of the most interesting, and difficult, in recent memory. Simply put, Exmilitary is downright nasty. It’s a hodgepodge of influences throw together to bring a very unique and revitalizing approach to the genre.
It’s hard to speak of the creators/members of Death Grips, as Zach Hill has been the only core member attached to the project to this point, which leaves the rappers and other hands on the production shrouded in a veil of mystery. But that’s also part of the dark appeal surrounding the group and music. Instead of focusing on the heads on the project, the overall cacophonous experience is what’s important. The album kicks off with “Beware” and peels open with a short, eerie monologue from Charles Manson before crashing percussion and shuttering, overblown guitars take hold – both are fixtures throughout the album. The introduction from Manson is the perfect first impression of what is to come from the rest of Exmilitary. The lyrical content that sludges through the 13 tracks takes on themes of nihilism, satanism and post-apocalyptic doom. The bulk of the raps come from a voice that sounds like a more twisted and sinister RZA or Del the Funky Homosapien, with a low, barking cantor. The bleak outlook is heightened on the opening track with him repeating the line, “I am the beast I worship.” The track gives way into the warpy dubstep bass of “Guillotine,” which is a better example of the lyrical prowess of the lead MC. But more often than not, the lyrical content is overshadowed by the complex, everything-and-the-kitchen-sink instrumentals. You may also recongize some of the samples on the record, which come from groups like Beastie Boys, David Bowie, Black Flag, Snoop Dogg and The Castaways.
As always, Zach Hill’s eight-arm drum work is impossible to understate on the album. His 100 MPH snare and cymbal snaps hit hardest and are most prevalent on songs like “Cuture Shock,” ” and especially “Thru the Walls.” Elsewhere, they delve into some more genre-mashing, with the chillwave tinged synths on “5D” and “Known For It.” Other tracks like the standouts, “Takyon (Death Yon” and “Culture Shock,” are the closest thing to “straight-forward” hip-hop tracks. Death Grips are able to capture that balance between abrasive/punk-fueled production and rap that our own Twin Cities stalwarts are able to do so well. It’s a record that could have both punk fans and harder rap fan falling for and it’s yet another chapter in the long, extensive and brain-bashing history of Zach Hill. It’s not an easy listen, but like a lot of Hill’s output, there are rewards with repeated spins.