“It’s gonna be dark, real f–kin’ dark. If you’re religious, you’re gonna get nice & offended. So be sure to e-mail me what you think, haha.”
Though part of that quote is meant in jest, it’s exactly how Seattle hip-hop artist Sadistik described his then-incomplete fourth studio album more than a year ago. With song titles like “Free Spirits”, “God Complex”, and “Salem Witches”, it’s not difficult to surmise how someone would get offended, even without listening to the songs and just simply glancing at the titles. Since his 2008 debut “The Balancing Act“, Sadistik has sometimes gone by the moniker of “Sad Vicious.” While the “sad” part always got the most play because of his introspective and dreary poetic raps, it’s the “vicious” part which takes center stage on “Altars”. He’s angry and he translates it into a sound that is much darker and more aggressive than what he’s displayed on his previous albums. Part of what’s helped him achieve this in this new offering is the production. His “Prey for Paralysis” collaborator Graham O’Brien has a hand in all the tracks. Though credited on each as an additional producer, it’s clear that his live drums give the music a more forceful impact that goes well with Sadistik’s present style.
“Altars” is his first full-length album since 2014’s “Ultraviolet” and his first release since last year’s “Salo Sessions” EP. When asked if the new album would be similar to any of his past releases, he replied that it’s a “new monster, same heart.” This doesn’t have the gloomy menace of the last EP or the psychedelia of his last LP. Here, Sadistik has taken aim at the institutions which have exasperated him. To apply a metaphor, Sadistik is Tom Brady after returning from his four-game suspension in last year’s NFL season: He’s pissed off and it’s made him frighteningly focused. For rappers who pride themselves on technical skill, Sadistik is one among you who should not be slept on.
Though “Free Spirits” was the first single (along with an accompanying video directed by Sadistik himself), it’s the second single that turned my head more. “God Complex”, which he’s been performing at his shows for over a year to build anticipation for “Altars”, has a mix of nihilism and rejection of all gods. Since he’s the center of his own life, Sadistik is his own god. The beat takes readily-apparent shifts on each verse, with the outro serving as a head-nodding extended crescendo of the second verse. It’s also noteworthy that “Playing God” from his debut album had him railing against the idea of God that people had been imposing on him. But that was back when he was a 22-year-old rookie with raw rapping ability. Connecting that song with the present, he’s now a 31-year-old veteran with different levels of proficiency in that ability on each offering, the most recent of which has him accepting his own god complex while mowing down yours:
Sadistik has a way of taking obscure and unusual topics and applying them to hip-hop in his writing. Before him, I never heard any rapper name-drop Sylvia Plath, Virginia Woolf, or David Lynch films in their rhymes. To some, those examples seem too intellectual and too pretentious for hip-hop. While the genre may seem like a crude medium to some, the applications of what artists bring to it can never be called useless. The idea of the walking dead is utilized on “Cotard’s Syndrome” with the repeated hook, “Dead in the head I was born like this, I was born like this.” The next two tracks have an intensity with the potential to incite mosh pits at his live shows in addition to meeting the criteria for unusual. “Roaches” has trap-like elements to the beat and vocals, especially in the hook. The title can be a reference to either marijuana blunts which have been smoked down to nothing or just evolution. Since the latter fits with the album’s themes, I’ll run with that one. A cockroach is more evolved than a human is, if you think about it. It can go months without food, walk around decapitated for weeks, and is radiation-proof. It’s been said that God created man in his own image, but the cockroach is far more advanced and closer to God in certain respects. So evolutionarily speaking, roaches are God.
The second track, “Salem Witches”, is the best track on the album. It’s an eerie banger with creepy cowbells in which Sadistik makes literary and cinematic references with dense wordplay, alliteration, and enraged imagery. So, what’s his crucible on “Salem Witches”? Finding a way to make you immolate:
The guest appearances on here aren’t much and they arrive during the second half of the album. “Sacrifice” is the angriest track on here. Opening with the lines “I don’t bow down to their idols, I won’t kow-tow ’til I’m idle” and a decidedly anti-martyrdom hook which repeats “sacrifice your gods before your gods sacrifice you”, it stands in contrast with the next track, “Water”, which contains the most ambient production. Kristoff Krane has a guest verse here, followed by P.O.S. and Terra Lopez on “Molecules.” Though I think the music itself could’ve included his usual production roster which is comprised of Kid Called Computer, Sxmplelife, Kno, and Eric G. (who produced “Molecules”) to name a few, this album required a different type of aggression courtesy of Andy McMann, Fameless, S.A.T., and Ryu Alexy (who produced four of the tracks). With “Altars”, Sadistik’s aim was to burn the gods we place on our altars and then burn the altars down. The album cover is an oil painting of Sadistik hanging by chains like a performance artist with his torso gutted and his insides exposed like an enema, which is something he’s done line for line throughout his whole career.