Book of the Cerberus

CERBERUS CLIQUE: Book Of The Dead Chapter I

Release year: 2023
Label: S’laughter Visions

As hinted at in our review of Doc Gruesome’s self-titled album (here), the core artists of the S’laughter Visions label join forces in the group Cerberus Clique, which on this album consists of seven rappers – at least judging by the cover artwork. What the current and future constellation of the clique is, I don’t rightly know: one of the core members, EJ Prophet, tragically passed away in 2022, before the release of this album.

Still, considering the album is named Book Of The Dead Chapter I, it sounds like a safe assumption that EJ Prophet’s passing does not spell the end of the Clique. But, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. This is a review or write-up of the debut album, so conjecture about the project’s future is rather off-topic.

Horrorcore of a modern flair is by and large the unifying style of the S’laughter Visions/Cerberus Clique artists, and as such, it comes as no surprise that what this album offers is – modern horrorcore. Classic horrorcore beat elements such as eerie synths and horror piano melodies combine with obviously trap-inspired, hi-hat heavy beats. Some tracks lean more in one direction, some in the other. I guess if you’re a straight up old school horrorcore fan – ie. anything after the first Joker Card series of Insane Clown Posse albums is too modern for you – this might sound too modern for you. But on the other hand, if even the later Dark Lotus albums tickle your tastebuds in a good way, this might be just the right combination of traditional and new horrorcore for you.

And, in a way, I guess it’s natural to draw parallells between Cerberus Clique and Dark Lotus. And of course other horrorcore “supergroups” – but I guess among these, Dark Lotus is both the original blueprint and the most prominent example. Even though Cerberus Clique and its individual members aren’t quite so luminous (yet!) as to be called a “supergroup” in the traditional sense, the very concept of the group puts them in the same ballpark.

In comparison to the “supergroups” alluded to above, Cerberus Clique is obviously similar in the sense that the members alternate between verses and the album seeks to give all a roughly equal time in the spotlight. This leads to some problems of plenty, meaning the album is quite mammoth in size (70 minutes), and sitting through it all in one go does demand some stamina.

It seems like Bank Hard Beats is the “house producer” of the label, as they are responsible for producing not only this but many other S’laughter Visions releases. This becomes a slight issue, as there is a somewhat distinctive sound and style to the stripped-down, trap inspired horror beats. This in turn has the effect of making many S’laughter Visions albums sound a bit samey – an issue amplified with Cerberus Clique, consisting as it does of the artists on the label. This is to some extent compounded by the somewhat similar timbre and flow of a few of the artists.

My third point of criticism are the artists who feature on the album: when you’ve already got a group of seven rappers, the impact of guests tends to become a bit trivialized.

The above points of criticism considered, Book Of The Dead is still a good album. It could be a bit tighter, cutting away a few tracks, but that’s ultimately my most significant point of criticism. Because, you see, the thing is that the high points of the album are really high, and entirely justify the existence of the album and Cerberus Clique as a group.

Take for example Coffin: the eerie, claustrophobic track reminds me of Dark Lotus’ classic Trapped Inside in how the slow beat and the haunted synths effectively evoke images of being buried alive. The slow rhythm and the clear enunciation of the lines is a definite nod to the old school. Sacrifice A Stranger is another favourite of ours, going over the top with the lyrical imagery as horrorcore should do. Putting emphasis on the more modern elements of the S’laughter Visions sound, Die Slow features a prominent, distorted bass over a trap percussive pattern, and is more street than horror movie in its lyrical themes.

My personal favourite is, however, album closer Russian Roulette. You can guess what the lyrics are about, right? Taking this theme of a group of people sitting around a table, taking turns testing their luck against a gun with a single bullet in it, Cerberus Clique use it to give each member a brief verse to, in effect, introduce their character. This should be a video track, as in a way it also serves as a “calling card” for the members of the group, allowing them to highlight not only their style, but also their lyrical emphasis.

And yes, of course it ends not in an empty click, but a fatal bang. You’ll have to listen to the track to find out who the lucky winner is.

To summarize, Book Of The Dead highlights both the strengths and some slight weaknesses of the clique centered around S’laughter Visions. The obvious strength is that here’s a group of competent rappers, who appear to have a similar vision of where horrorcore should go in the 2020’s. However, relying on one “house producer” has its risks, some of which become realized when comparing Cerberus Clique to the albums of the individual artists.

All things considered, the scales still weigh more towards the positive, and decidedly so. There are many good tracks on this album, the best of which show that Cerberus Clique can be more than just a sort of cobbled-together average of its individual members. Tracks such as the aforementioned Coffin and Sacrifice A Stranger prove that the group can write tracks where the members’ styles mesh together to create a distinctive style that is more than “Salem Alumni mixed with Illtrix” or whatever.

Ultimately, I feel Book Of The Dead Chapter I presents a slightly embryonic “label supergroup.” There’s a lot of potential here, but despite moments where it becomes actualized, it’s not all it could be. More emphasis on creating a strongly distinctive, unique “Cerberus Clique sound” is key to turning potential into realized strength.

But if you’ve enjoyed the albums of the individual artists, there’s no reason not to check this out.

Visit Cerberus Clique’s official store, or their Facebook page

2 thoughts on “Book of the Cerberus

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