Army of the Pharoahs - Ritual of Battle

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As it stands Ritual of Battle is a very strong showing from what would be a supergroup given more individual success, it just might not have what it takes to warrant repeat front-to-back spins

Since its original
conception in the late 90's by Jedi
Mind Tricks
front man Vinnie
Paz
, Army
of the Pharoahs
(aka AOTP), has had a constantly evolving roster of underground
mainstays. This time around AOTP
has supplemented their ranks with Demoz
and Doap Nixon,
while Apathy
has withdrawn. Luckily Ap's
disappearance isn't too much of an issue as both veterans and newcomers do a
superb job of holding it down lyrically. There aren't a lot of surprises here
as this record is very similar in scope and subject matter as last year's The Torture Papers, featuring
pseudo-epic production and lyrics that serve as verification to this album's
title.

Kicking off in
spectacular fashion, posse cut Swords Drawn is being widely compared to a Wu-Tang joint, probably
due to the fact that there are a total of 6 emcees on the track. Listeners will
be hard pressed to choose a single favorite verse as the squadron all come
correct over a banger provided by Esoteric.
Eso also contributes the triumphant
horns of Dump The
Clip
which features Eso
himself kicking one of the illest verses I've personally ever heard from him,
proclaiming himself "The
Mighty Thor, with the mind of Michael Moore
." Perhaps the most
dominate single track on the record is Seven, another song with an
abundance of personalities spitting gutter poetry, this time over a
collaborative production by Ill
Bill
and
Sicknature
. With strong performances throughout, the best is
saved for last with a very hungry Vinnie
Paz
preceded by Celph
Titled
's signature brand of twisted humor mixed with the
filthiest of gangsterisms.

While these high points
make blunder hard to imagine, there is disappointment to be found scattered
throughout the 16 tracks. While most of these missteps occur due to repetitive
and sometimes just plain weak production, perhaps the bitterest pill to swallow
is the letdown that is Blue Steel. Featuring a reunited Vinnie Paz and Jus Allah for the
first time since 2000's Violent By Design, what should have been the crowning
moment of the record becomes a farce thanks to an annoying beat and an
extremely poor performance by Jus
Allah
. Even Vinnie,
who is at his best for the rest of the album, sounds unmotivated over the
staccato strings. And while Paz
is at his pinnacle, Jus
Allah
falters on all three of his included attempts.

Just like any subject
matter, an album comprised entirely of battle raps can become tedious,
especially after 16 tracks clocking in at over an hour. Fortunately, things are
kept pretty fresh with tracks featuring a virtual revolving door of emcee combinations.
D & D,
which isn't a nerd rap tribute to Dungeons & Dragons, but a team up between
Demoz
and Des Devious.
The one deviation from the battle rap formula, Don't Cry works to gorgeous
results, but also makes one wish there were more displays of diversity over the
course of the record. Not every track is going to succeed the way Dump The Clip
did, when the same topic's keep getting repeated you end up with tired songs
like Drama Theme.

As it stands Ritual of Battle
is a very strong showing from what would be a supergroup given more individual
success, it just might not have what it takes to warrant repeat front-to-back
spins. The roster changes worked out pretty well all in all, although Apathy's absence is noticeable. Don't
get it twisted, it isn't like the LP suffered without the King of Connecticut, but it surely would have been better with him.
On the production front the album is pretty much on par with The Torture Papers, if not a slight
notch below. But without any real thematic or conceptual growth for round 2,
the Ritual of Battle is just another
good album.

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