“If you don’t know me by now, I don’t want you to,” Ghostemane rasps on ‘AI’, the lead single from his new album, ‘ANTI-ICON’. It’s a lyric that sums up the Florida-born rapper, a forward-thinking outsider whose savage amalgamation of horror-inspired hip-hop, caustic metal and trap shows little regard for genre boundaries. Purists need not enquire.
Despite his roots in hardcore punk, the rapper, real name Eric Whitney, emerged during the Soundcloud boom of recent years, releasing a slew of albums, singles and collaborations in quick succession. Like those of his peers, his lyrics were rife with disillusionment, anxiety and anger; musically, though, Ghoste was playing with a more nightmarish, metallic palette. By 2017’s ‘Hexada’, and 2018’s ‘N / O / I / S E’, he’d augmented his bassy sound with ruined industrial metal and corrosive guitars, sounding like he’d chucked his Nine Inch Nails and Three 6 Mafia albums in a meat grinder and cranked the handle, churning out the guts.
Eight album ‘ANTI-ICON’ sees him take the next step. Ghoste’s loose-tongued rhymes run rings on ‘Vagabond’ and ‘AI’, but many of these tracks veer further toward metal than rap. ‘Intro Destitute’ sets the tone with a nightmarish drone of bass and drums that thump and quicken, before disintegrating into a Code Orange-influenced wall of frayed drums and claustrophobic electronics. ‘Lazaretto’ nods to the steel toe-capped savagery of punk and hip-hop duo Ho99o9’s. Meanwhile, on ‘Calamity’, rather than maintaining a sustained vocal attack, he raps in quickfire bursts, complemented by violent eruptions of guitar.
It was Ghostemane’s penchant for horrorcore that initially set him apart, and tracks such ‘Hellrap’ – which sees him murmuring, “I just want to kill somebody,” over cold, John Carpenter-style sounds – are splattered with grisly imagery. He excels at creating forbidding moods and atmosphere, but there’s vulnerability here too – many of these songs chart his recovery from an addiction to opiates. “I’m fed up with the drugs / Fed up with the fake love,” he raps over skeletal piano and booming bass on ‘Fed Up.’ On ‘Melancholiac’, which sees him channel Nine Inch Nails classic ‘The Downward Spiral’ and coin himself “the poster child for lack of mental health’, he asks, “Am I too fucked up to notice? / I deserve to be happy now, don’t you think?”
‘Falling Down’, the album’s closer is the most surprising track of all – just Ghoste alone with a bare-bones strummed guitar and a heart full of hurt: “Doubting myself / Morbidly conscious of the way I felt … I hope you found a way to forgive yourself.” For an artist who has long revelled in gruesome imagery and high concept, this feels like a surprise peek behind the curtain, and yet another sonic boundary crossed.
Release date: October 21
Record label: BLACKMAGE RECORDS