Army of the Pharoahs
Ritual of Battle
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 This time around AOTP has supplemented their ranks with Demoz and Doap Nixon, while Apathy has withdrawn.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.