Home Music Discography Discography: MF DOOM: Czarface Meets Metal Face

Discography: MF DOOM: Czarface Meets Metal Face

Wack rappers get spit on through the pearly gates/ Final straw, ask ‘em what they rhymin’ for/ Death waits right behind the door like a dinosaur.” This is DOOM in full villain mode – “The Supervillain, a maniacal tyrant,” he raps on the first proper track of Czarface Meets Metal Face, “Meddle with Metal.” Even as he’s sharing the spotlight with the super group of Inspectah Deck, 7L and Esoteric, every DOOM verse feels like an event. He’s the bad guy showing up to monologue, to boast – like any supervillain his schemes don’t always come to fruition. His heroic foil here is Czarface, and unlike on DOOM’s previous effort, this is a partnership of equals. The band of veterans trade bars over beats without any concern higher than talking shit while doing what they love. This isn’t a revolutionary album, but DOOM made his fair share of those. Instead, it’s a group reveling in their love of comic books and old school rap. You could call it an earned indulgence, but that would be underselling the album’s pleasures.

These begin with the production. Handled by 7L along with Jeremy Page & Todd Spadafore, the sound is boom-bap draped with the melodrama of a haunted house. “Forever People” has a creeping bass line that evoked nothing so much as a classic episode of Scooby-Doo, while the piano on “Badness of Madness” sounds like its reverberating through the vastness of some subterranean dungeon. The woozy harmonium-like sound on “Captain Brunch” places a layer of drone beneath one of the brighter sounding tracks. The synths on “MF Czar” could play over any of the imitations of the video game DOOM, or over the real thing itself. There are plenty of minor key motifs – one of the best is on “Astral Traveling” – interspersed with skits and snatches of sampled dialogue. It’s comic-book gothic – that is to say, it sounds like the soundtrack of Castle Doom, Doctor Doom’s lair. Fitting, then.

But it would be unfair to focus solely on DOOM, even as his collaborators so clearly fashion the record around his presence. Esoteric can’t help but be outmatched here, but still brings an energy that’s both admirable and genuinely fun, like on “Stun Gun” when he quips “I run through rappers like Chipotle/ I hope they get their shit together/ ‘Cause the raps they give are somethin’ like a laxative, whatever.” Inspectah Deck is a legend in his own right, and turns in some of the best verses on the album. When he raps “they stopped manufacturin’ the cloth that I’m cut from” on “Bomb Thrown,” you believe him. There’s a controlled fury in his delivery, a conviction that this is how rap is supposed to sound. He doesn’t seem like one to argue with. There are some features on the album, too, the best of which is Open Mike Eagle’s on “Phantom,” where his dexterous and relaxed delivery, along with his lithe wordplay, offers something new to the formula of verses traded between the main collaborators.

And then there’s DOOM. From exile in London he stalks around Czarface Meets Metal Face. His presence is looming. The last decade of his output, marked increasingly by collaborations both delivered and unfilled, frustrated critics. There’s something to this – he isn’t always in high form (who is?), but the accusations of autopilot seem misplaced. Certainly his visa situation must have frustrated him, and probably even limited his artistic practice in ways we don’t know, but he was also an artist entering his third decade of productivity doing what he did, still, better than pretty much anyone else. Looked at this way, the ‘10s are a decade of experimentation for DOOM – even if albums like this one are fully throwback affairs.

Maybe it was a way to re-center himself. DOOM wasn’t a young gun doing ‘90s pastiche – though he lived long enough to see that trend come and go – but the real deal going back to his origins. “Saga of the Villain, brand new chapters,” he raps on “Badness of Madness,” before joking, “Do amass new billions . . . / Rare form of integrity, oughta draw gazillions.” His humor carries through even when the lyricism isn’t his most inspired, like on the first line of “Captain Crunch”: “Eatin’ Captain Crunch for lunch, don’t get your panties in a bunch.” But on “Nautical Depth,” he lights up – while dropping a Thomas Pynchon reference at that – and the real coup is his verse on “MF Czar,” which lays out his philosophy. “Lyrics, don’t blow it, bein’ heroic/ And don’t make me tell you again, stay stoic” he advises, while contesting that most rappers are “barely ever what they say they are and they know it.” Any artist would be wise to heed his injunction: “Make sure the inner heat match the outer heat.” If the stakes feel too high, he cuts through the noise at the end, bringing it back to basics with the revelation, “Relax, just be what’s comin’ out the freakin’ speaker/ Eureka.”

Like the team-up comics it emulates, Czarface Meets Metal Face was an Event, and even with its inherent limitations, it delivered on its promises. It’s taken on a little more import now since it was the last album released before DOOM’s untimely death, but it’s not the last one he completed. A sequel to this collaboration – completed as the pandemic began and delayed as a result – was released just this month. Legends like Bowie and Prince – and without a doubt DOOM deserves to be mentioned in the same breath – left vaults of unreleased material behind as a kind-of memorial to their continued vitality and, who knows, maybe the villain still has some tricks left up his sleeve for us. But if not, these final transmissions from his lair have their place in his discography as exuberant mask-on productions, labors of love combining the influences – musical and otherwise – that forged DOOM.

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