Few album titles are as dead-on descriptive as the Midwest Avengers' Headbanger Hip Hop. Core members BC (John Harrington) and So'n'So (James Coleman) joined forces with a live band for 2007's Evil Superheroes. In the past few years, the pair has solidified its mix of rap's lyrical delivery and nu-metal's guitar riffage. At its best, the band sounds like a more bellicose Fishbone, with So'n'So's spitfire flow offsetting some of the chugging guitar riffs. But too often Headbanger drifts into the territory occupied by the Judgment Night soundtrack, where rap and hard rock collide but don't really advance either form.
Most hip-hop fans have made peace with live instrumentation, but the Midwest Avengers' approach leaves little room for subtlety or variation. The guitars rarely stray from a particularly flat distortion tone, which dulls much of the overall sound of the album. Some welcome funk seeps in with the laid-back "Body Rock," which has the vibe of an old-school soul jam and a busy rhythm section that keeps the energy from dipping.
BC and So'n'So are fine rappers — So'n'So has an addictive twang, and BC isn't afraid to sing on the choruses — but too often they tread in the shallow end of hip-hop's lyrical pool. On this record, women are either revenge-seeking hoodrats ("Got That Thang"), psycho bitches ("Stalker") or debased sexual vessels ("Lil Bit"). Rap and metal aren't known for nuanced depictions of the fairer sex, but here it's less an issue of misogyny than repetition of tired tropes.
The pair is better on the album's quiet moments of introspection. "ColdWorld" casts an atmospheric spell as it bemoans backstabbing friends, while "Sometimes" seeks perseverance through a laundry list of day-to-day woes. Both songs edge toward something personal and inspiring, and the propulsive drums and charging guitar chords bring an energy that turntables and drum machines never could. It's that combination that makes Midwest Avengers an exciting live act, but too often on Headbanger is the band hamstrung by its own devices.
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