A Guernica In Blood On The Walls
I'll say it straight away. This could be the best produced record of the year and I don't say that lightly. In 2020 I've been blown away by the primal percussion of Fetch the Bolt Cutters, the quiet piano-led ambience of Madrugada and even the synth pop sounds of After Hours, but our latest album of the month might just have them all beat.
Visions of Bodies Being Burned is the fourth LP from experimental LA hip-hop trio clipping. and perfectly shows that Halloween music doesn't just have to be the same 'Thriller' playlist repeated ad infinitum. Designed as a second part to the group's 2019 'horrorcore' stylized album There Existed an Addiction to Blood (but delayed for fairly obvious reasons), clipping.'s latest record couldn't have arrived at a better time. Continuing their descent into the dark world of gory lyricism and ultra-abrasive instrumentation, Visions of Bodies Being Burned should be seen as an instant classic of the loosely defined subgenre of horrorcore hip-hop.
Shades of Death Grips are all over this project. To some, that might run the risk of the record sounding emulative, or even imitative of a group with one of hip-hop's most identifiable styles - but through the delivery of Hamilton alumnus Daveed Diggs, clipping. are their own beast. I think it's still fair to position the band behind the awe-inspiring innovation of the Grips' industrial hip-hop noisemaking, but this is no poor imitation. Opening with unsettling pulses and the delightfully cliché rattles of a typical horror movie trailer, a big, fat, radio static gives way to a pitch-corrected drone of:
"Candlesticks in the dark
Visions of bodies being burned"
and it’s hard not to get excited by the imposing tone established by William Hutson and Jonathan Snipes' brooding production. 'Say the Name' is an immediate highlight - brilliantly setting the board for this horror movie hip-hop album.
Fists batter the door as '96 Neve Campbell' opens up. Inglewood duo Cam & China take control, fluctuating between these late 90s east coast deliveries and into full-on Atlanta rap genius over Psycho-esque strings and cricket sounds. 'Something Underneath' has an OutKast reminiscence in Diggs' ultra-compact lyrical deliveries and increasingly intimidating (and distorted) percussion - desperately quoting "what's cooler than being cool? Ice Cold!" while drowned in fantastically primal production.
Beyond the experimentation of Hutson and Snipes however, Diggs too explores styles throughout - but to varying success. At times, the breathless intensity of clipping.'s frontman totally succeeds in creating a distinctly frightening barrage of gory images and psychological worries, but at times the deliveries on Visions of Bodies Being Burned are guilty of sounding unrefined, or even laughably silly.
I suppose that's kind of the point. In imitating the slasher tropes of Halloween or Friday the 13th, the line between frightening and funny is so often self-consciously toyed with, but there are moments in this album where Diggs sounds less like Scarface and more like a college freshman slam poet. Sometimes it's great. The incredible industrial layers of 'Pain Everyday' present a soundscape alongside Michael Esposito's 'EVP' ghost recordings that make way for Diggs to lyricise about death *beyond* the tropes of horror and into saying something genuinely provoking. But, for every four of five moments of brilliant lyricism, there is a moment that resembles the hyper-rigidity that characterises Hamilton and the rest of bad hip-hop. I love Diggs, but the triplets and cadences of first track 'Intro' didn't do a lot to sell me on the project as I arrived:
"Be honest with it, what do you feel?
The beast is hidden beneath the feet and with the pattern concealed
It's like you're stuck in the middle - of - your - terr - or
And never found part of yourself - but - oh - well
Here come the hammers to rearrange body chemistry"
Much better, though, 'Check the Lock' is probably the most accessible track on the project. It's also fucking mint. These tone-bending bass lines and relentless bass drum grooves are tight, and make for one of the LP's truly essential moments. Hardcore hip-hop duo Ho99o9 make a fantastic appearance on 'Looking Like Meat', and just like Cam & China did early on, steal the show with their brief inclusion. They enter like a wrecking ball at the two minute mark - piercing through these eye-watering synth stabs while melting the microphone with sheer ferocity.
Slam poetry re-appears again on 'Eaten Alive', but here it feels justified. It's not slam poetry masquerading as scary hip-hop rap, it's slam poetry *being* slam poetry before making way for the record's last tracks. This group are more than capable of having fun with their subject matter, dropping an instant classic of a punchline on 'Body for the Pile' with
And it's stains in the wainscotting, cracks in the baseboard
Arachnid in the corner serving up face like
"Whose house you think this is?"
re-released on this record after initially featuring on Adult Swim's noise compilation back in 2016, the messaging of 'Body for the Pile' as a track dedicated to the murder of police officers is only growing more relevant as America pushes back against state violence and towards the disassembly of its racist institutions.
'Enlacing' ends the project, before instrumental closer 'Secret Piece' offers a (very) welcome breath of recovery with ambient bird song and the sound of cars driving past, but 'Enlacing' does something really brilliant. After the album's engagement with traditional horror and vivid realisations of gore and brutality ("Swiss-cheesed a brother, already half-dead / brain leaking out a hole in his forehead / lobotomies like pills, get 'em for cheap"- 'Say the Name'), what 'Enlacing' taps into is something altogether more unsettling.
Fundamental to my favourite sub-section of horror - the real flavour of Lovecraftian fiction is the fear of the unknowable and the incomprehensible. Throughout Visions of Bodies Being Burned, the ambitiously hard-nosed production and imaginatively disturbing descriptions are often shocking, but I wasn't scared until 'Enlacing.' Ending with this idea of "all of the cataracts floating outside your vision are inching in - what do they know?" pushes the project beyond a fun experimentation with a niche theme into a well realised contribution to its genre. Add that to some of the most sensationally built compositions of the year and clipping. may just have released the best horror album of all time.
- 8.8 -
'Say the Name', 'Something Underneath', 'Check the Lock'
Thanks for reading! Slow Motion Panic Masters is a music, arts and culture blog created and edited by Ben Wheadon, a literature student and musician based at the University of Oxford. He is also a Fleet Foxes shill.
This article was edited by Fin Cousins, a postgrad literature student studying at Kings College, London. He loves sport, music and writing and he is still waiting for Love Island to accept his application. He also made our logo.
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