Clipping aren’t horror movie directors, but they’re still artists that are remarkably aware of how to create cinematic music within their own unflinchingly socially-conscious world. When last we saw the band, they tackled the world of sci-fi with 2016’s Splendor & Misery, an Afrofuturist suite about slavery, rebellion and the suffocating loneliness of space that perfectly encapsulated the fear and disillusionment born of American society’s growing trend of racist hatred. Now with There Existed an Addiction to Blood (a late contender for Best Album Title of 2019), they return to Earth and turn their sights on horror: not just in movies, but in stories and ‘90s horrorcore rap.

Releasing the album just before Halloween feels like a move that could have led to a cheesy album full of spooky sound effects and hook-handed men, but as anyone who has heard CLPPNG standout “Body & Blood” knows, Clipping are disturbingly good at invoking high-drama grit and gruesomeness, and with Addiction to Blood, they allow themselves the freedom to go fucking hog-wild with it. Daveed Diggs is a multifaceted writer and performer, but he seems born for this kind of content, and he delivers stores of mutilation with relentless vividness. Take “Story 7,” for example. Another piece of the “Story” series began on Midcity, it follows a jilted lover (who happens to be a werewolf) hungry for revenge and blood with richly-detailed descriptions of murder scenes and the people who unwittingly stumble onto them. It’s classic horrorcore, but it’s less Gravediggaz, and more Hostel, and his reference game is persistently permanently on-point enough that it may as well be a subliminal ad for Genius; standout track “Club Down” namedrops A. A. Milne and Gene Kelly within a line of each other, and it casually drops the line “Golden goose from a fairy tale, shittin’ Fabergé eggs” without blinking.

Horrorcore thrives on this kind of scene-setting, and Diggs’ ability to paint a picture is unmatched, especially when paired with his unbelievable skill as a rapper. He delivers lead single “Nothing Is Safe,” which reskins John Carpenter’s Assault on Precinct 13 as a vivid story about a trap house raid so precise that you can see the “Wooden floors stained wet, gets soft the more that he bleeds,” all the while maintaining a hypnotic rhythm amid the ebb and flow of the song’s beats, which gracefully maintain the essence of Carpenter’s soundtrack. Then there’s “La Mala Ordina”: “The bags on the table ain’t for weight, they for body parts/ Victim skin stretched across the wall, call it body art/ Bodies for the pile, bring ‘em out stacked on a dolly cart/ Anybody out there ain’t on drugs yet they should prolly start,” Diggs raps amid unsettling drum beats and horror soundtrack droning (courtesy of noise artist the Rita); it would be funny if it weren’t so fucked-up. This is all to say nothing of “The Show” which gleefully delivers gruesome detail with such density that it feels wrong to even quote it.

It’s unfair that Clipping are so frequently distilled down to just the X-Acto precision of Diggs, because even though he’s a brilliant writer and lyricist, Clipping—and Addiction to Blood—is a group effort. Producers William Hutson and Jonathan Snipes are as good as Carpenter in creating soundscapes as laser-focused as Diggs’ words, everything a perfect collection of noise. “All in Your Head” is a mass of slowly bubbling static and noise that almost feels Tim Heckeresque if you close your eyes, while “Blood of the Fang” weaves a tapestry of trap beats and gospel samples with all the terrestrial oomph that Splendor & Misery didn’t have the space for.

And then there are the guests: Elcamino and Benny the Butcher help turn “La Mala Ordina” into a modern “Monster” with the sonic sensibilities of Yeezus, calling on their talents as drug rappers spectacularly. Former Three 6 Mafia affiliate La Chat turns up on “Run for Your Life” to devour the scenery and threaten to feed you to her pigs. On “All in Your Head,” Robyn Hood delivers hilarious interludes about the Bible (choice line: “You still owe for that rib, a ho gotta pay that back with interest”), which works surprisingly well with Diggs’ zombie-like delivery and Counterfeit Madison’s jaw-dropping pipes.

Addiction to Blood presents a problem for the listener, however: it succeeds so flawlessly in creating murky, off-putting atmospheres with rich detail and dense production work, but as a result, it can be difficult to love at first. While Splendor & Misery was so inviting that you wanted to stick around long enough for its themes to sink in, Addiction to Blood actively keeps you at a distance, to the point where its combination of noise and gore can provide a barrier if you’re not in the right headspace. It also ends with “Piano Burning,” their performance of the Annea Lockwood song of the same name, which is a solid 18 minutes of, well, a piano burning (yes, snapping wires and all), an act that provides a strangely serene palate-cleanser and a somewhat maddening anticlimax to a ruthlessly harsh listen.

There Was an Addiction to Blood is the album Clipping was born to make, but it will polarize the listening public more than their previous releases. You might not actually “enjoy” this album, but as with the best horror, is that really the point? It doesn’t want you to like it—it wants you to puzzle over it and hungrily find meaning in every stylistic choice.

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