Atmosphere, Mac Lethal, Grayskul

Grayskul's 2005 release, Deadlivers, seemed suspiciously mature for a debut effort, at least until fans did some digging about these ascendant masters of the underground universe and discovered Reason, Fiddle Back Recluse and Phantom Ghost El-Topo were the superhero aliases of scene vets Onry Ozzborn, JFK and Rob Castro. These MCs drew upon their connections to solicit sharp cameo appearances from Aesop Rock, Mr. Lif, Canibus and members of their crew Oldominion. Even without all that assistance, Grayskul commandeers the stage as if it were storming a castle, the result of five years of touring before Deadlivers hit the shelves. Friends originally dubbed Onry "Ozzborn" because his unhinged stage persona recalled Black Sabbath's bat-biting frontman, but even though he calms things down in Reason guise, he still rhymes about dark matters. Castro's live bass lines provide the sturdy backbone for beats as dauntingly dreary as the overcast skies in the group's native Seattle. This is gloomy hip-hop for listeners who would rather throw their hands up in despair than wave them like they just don't care.

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Andrew Williams