Independent Spotlight is a continuing series on Stewart’s blog. The series revolves around independent artists and bands sending their music to Brett to review. No band is promised a positive review, and all music is reviewed honestly in an effort to better independent music.
In this morning’s edition of the Independent Spotlight, we shine our gaze on a unique independent outfit that describes themselves as ‘the new breed of hip hop.’ The Voices of Terror are an alternative hip hop duo from New Jersey. Consisting of Mike Walker and ‘Zero,’ the two create, write, produce, and record all of their own content. Their range of influences is intriguing as well, citing a mixture of traditional hip hop artists, metal bands, and rap rock bands. (Tupac, Jay Z, Linkin Park, Disturbed, etc.) Let’s talk about their new collection of songs, ‘Once Upon A Nightmare.’
‘Once Upon A Nightmare’ is a concept album of sorts, drawing upon heavy horror influence to create ‘haunting storylines’ and ‘unforgettable atmospheres.’ Needless to say, it’s a very dark record. It’s also quite creepy; the duo own their horror-tinged soundscapes with tact. The Voices of Terror also employ some dramatically cinematic production. This is, for the most part, a very successful endeavor for them. It separates them from the vast majority of independent hip hop. As I’ve said countless times on the Spotlight, I get inundated with about a dozen rap acts every week. Only a handful a month are worth writing home about. The Voices of Terror’s play for originality lends itself well to landing the duo into that category.
‘No Beauty in the Beast’ is a dynamic, intense opener that defines ‘Once Upon A Nightmare’ as an eclectic, hard-hitting effort. I love the orchestration, the classical, eerie organs, and the forceful delivery on behalf of The Voices of Terror. I get their Linkin Park influence now - it’s that arena-filling rap rock that the pinnacle outfit has championed for years. (To varying degrees of success, in my opinion.) I have no hesitation with stating that I’d rather listen to The Voices of Terror over Linkin Park any day, though, because they’re also elaborately infusing those other aforementioned influences into their sound. ‘Immortal Combat,’ for example, has a heavy dose of late 80s, early 90s hip hop styling. That, combined with some spine-tingling vocal pieces, makes for an incredibly satisfying second track.
It’s impressive that The Voices of Terror have produced this kind of music independently. Indie hip hop is plagued with poor production and lackluster creativity. More often than not, I’m met with pre-loaded Garageband beats and endless tropes when I queue it up. The Voices of Terror exhibit of level of production prowess that I haven’t seen in quite some time. I adore their willingness to delve deep into experimentalism and new ideas. In fact, I applaud it. The indie hip hop scene needs more of that.
‘Scarred’ does a fine job showcasing the duo’s equal prowess for songwriting, too. ‘Scarred’ is a track of despair and frustration, as are quite a few of these tunes. He’s got a heavy metal block pressing down on him, he’s tortured inside, and he's struggling with an array of inner demons. It’s a bit depressing, to be entirely blunt, and I sympathize with whatever leads an artist to pen a song like ‘Scarred.’ (Unless it’s entirely conceptual and based off a character or fictionalized scenario, something that isn’t necessarily touched on in the record. The latter half does elude to this, though.) I think that brute honesty will make this album relatable for listeners. Hip hop can get so superficial and self-indulgent. ‘Scarred’ is anything but.
‘Tale of the Outlaw’ is an absolutely superb track. Again, I can’t get enough of The Voices of Terror’s complete willingness to genre-bend and try new things. ‘Tale of the Outlaw’ is an amazing feat of production, matched only by the sharp lyricism backing it. ‘Of Unsound Mind’ is an interesting effort, too, touching on the ‘voices’ influencing the songwriter. The album plays out a bit like an existential crisis - The Voices of Terror have created an excursion through pain, self-betrayal, and confusion. While this may not be the intent of the duo, I’d argue their music will likely hit on familiar cylinders for anyone who’s struggled with depression, mental illness, or tough times.
‘As The World Burns’ has one of the most compellingly beautiful, yet haunting introductions I’ve heard in a long time. It’s followed by an equally eerie sonic landscape. “Welcome to the apocalypse where all souls die,” the Voices of Terror declare before a classical vocal interlude, sung by what sounds like a young boy. I can confirm that The Voices of Terror accomplished one of their primary missions - I severely questioned my decision to spin this record in a dark studio at four in the morning.
‘The Dead are Coming Back’ seems to lock in a continuing theme of conceptualization on this album. The dead are rising following the apocalypse, which is then followed by the ceremoniously creepy ‘Rise of the Wolves.’ Finally, ‘A Glorious End’ seems to round out The Voices of Terror’s horrific musings. It actually would have been a fitting ending for the album, making ‘Hip-Hop Necrosis’ feel a bit anti-climactic. It’s a fine ending nonetheless, though.
The Voices of Terror have produced a hell of a record. Go spin in, and if I were you, I wouldn’t listen to it alone in the dark of the early morning like I did. (That’s a compliment - They nailed their atmosphere.)