Effectively blending genres is very much like following a recipe: a little too much of this, or too little of that, and you’re left with a bubbling mess that can’t be enjoyed by anyone. Finding that perfect meeting place between musical flavors is a hell of a task to take on, and you can bet the sweaty mass of genre aficionados will be hunched over it, sniffing for the tiniest flaw or contrivance. It takes real courage to innovate, and the best innovators are utterly fearless in their movements. Just look at Ghostemane, the metal-kid-turned-rap-star whose latest album ANTI-ICON challenges the very definition of “heavy music.”
ANTI-ICON is a sonically brutalizing record, a hybrid of trap beats, industrial soundscapes, and metalcore mosh riffs. Every track on the record blends these genres to blood and guts, in ratios precisely matched to Ghoste’s vocal rage. Tracks like “Lazaretto” and “Sacrilege” use beefy, bassy synths to quake the low end underneath percussive programming, fusing modern sample techniques with fat slabs of fuzz reminiscent of Nine Inch Nails and Manson’s Mechanical Animals. Walls of harsh noise pop off between breathy stretches full of negative space and depressive introspection. But the most crushing moments must be the unrelenting guitar chugs and cymbal washes—hardcore breakdowns go off like landmines in some of the tracks, lacing the electronic elements with more than a little metallic fury.
But no matter what genres Ghostemane chooses to Frankenstein together, the end result is unequivocally heavy, even sinister. The ethos of ANTI-ICON is a fearful one, and Ghoste smears this fear throughout every aspect of this record. Pretty synth textures hover above clouds of distortion and ugly percussion, the filth of the accompaniment far outweighing its beauty. Even the acoustic guitars that drive “The Winds of Change” and the album’s closer “Falling Down” find their melodics in minor chords and dolorous rhythms, somehow turning an instrument we’ve all heard countless times into an uncomfortable vehicle of fearful noise.
But it is Ghostemane’s vocal performances that make this record so effective. No matter his approach, Ghoste douses his vocal deliveries in emotion and intensity. “AI” is an uncomfortable masterpiece of juxtaposition, spitting frantic high-pitched rhymes between monotonous walls of delightfully horrid throat noise. “Anti-Social Masochistic Rage (ASMR)” is sung in a low bestial growl that feels almost demonic in its cadence (in perhaps another nod to Manson), while the choruses of “Vagabond” and “Hydrochloride” are slashed apart by impassioned screams.
The performances on ANTI-ICON are soaked in a no-fucks-given sincerity, and the lyrics are no exception. Although there is a healthy helping of angst throughout, ANTI-ICON has a very clear lyrical thread tying the whole thing together: no gods, no masters. Ghostemane strips away and sterilizes every semblance of authority or outside control: “Hydrochloride” and “Calamity” push back at the relentless and often blinding demands of addiction, while “Fed Up” rejects the concept of omnipresent deities with the lines “Say a prayer to anyone who cares / Ain’t nobody listenin’, or they left you on read.” Even Ghoste’s own father isn’t saved from this scathing rejection: “Vagabond” focuses on the transfer of responsibility that followed his dad’s death, remembering his father without turning him into either martyr or idol.
This concept extends well beyond the metaphorical masters too. ANTI-ICON is a stark refutation of a term beaten to death by the media, and critical of anyone who adopts that term for themselves. “AI” attacks the idea of celebrity and the influence it inevitably allows with stinging statements like “none of your favorite rappers ever tell the truth” and “A man who’s claiming he’s the man ain’t a man at all.” “Sacrilege” extrapolates this to Ghoste’s own influence, reminding his fans that he too is no idol worthy of worship: “Everybody depending on me, I don’t know why / Barely made it out of my bed, why do I try?”
With ANTI-ICON, Ghostemane breaks the fetters of hero worship in every sense, choosing to forge his own path forward. This is a record of risks, with each song effortlessly walking its own wild tightrope between disparate genres. Ghostemane has found the exact spot where metal and trap intersect, and forever marked that crossroads with his effigy with a record devoid of filler and overflowing with honesty. My one and only criticism of the record is its title, because I have a feeling I’ll be talking about this album for years to come.
My Top Tracks: “Sacrilege” & “Anti-Social Masochistic Rage (ASMR)”
ANTI-ICON is out via Blackmage; you can stream the record on Spotify or Bandcamp, or purchase physicals from Ghostemane’s website. For all things Ghoste, follow him on Facebook and Instagram @ghosetmane.