As much as they’d likely attest otherwise, there’s probably a ceiling to what Ho99o9 can reasonably achieve. That’s the case on record, anyway; live, they’ve always been more successful at channelling the fury and chaos into a full-bodied experience, which their recorded output has yet to properly catch up to. They’ve always been interesting, dangling hip-hop above a vantablack maw of noise and industrial bleakness, which has resulted in fascinating case studies of genre fusion without spawning many concise or overly sticky songs. And to their credit, there is a very recognisable punk and hardcore bent to how Ho99o9 have gone about it, where the causticity has always taken precedent, but it’s limited the duo’s opportunities for progression more than an act like this should have. At least with this new album, signing to Travis Barker’s label and having him onboard for production feels like a new milestone hit, only for this to be the sole instance where he keeps out of the way, and Ho99o9’s regular deal of serrated edges and rusty chainsaw teeth remains unopposed. That’s not necessarily a bad thing though; Ho99o9 might have a ceiling but they also have a floor too, in terms of how primally visceral and violent their sound is and how effective that can be. So when SKIN kicks off with NUGE SNIGHT, a minute-and-a-half of blown-out, skull-shattering noise parsed out by equally rattling bass and percussion, it sets the tone for Ho99o9’s typical nihilism to take hold once again. Outside of some more clarified political commentary on DEAD OR ASLEEP, SKIN serves as another barrelling descent into Ho99o9’s nightmare realm that can be compelling, if only for the lengths they go to to get there. Nuance isn’t necessarily a priority, but with performers as volatile and combustible as both Yeti Bones and theOGM at the helm to match the blaring abyss behind them, it doesn’t need to be.
That said, the issue of Ho99o9 lacking some tangible songs hasn’t gone away; they seem to be deliberately skirting past that as a means of holding onto a countercultural edge they’ve got a hold on, and it’s hard to deduce how worthwhile that tactic might be. On the one hand, the glimpses of how adept they are at dovetailing into something more focused are easily SKIN’s standout features, in the ghostly veneer over the quaking noise-rap of SLO BREAD, or the simmer and rattle of DEVIL AT THE CROSSROADS that’s borderline accessible, especially for Ho99o9. But it’s the fact that they’re pretty much the only standouts on the basis of musical ideas; you’ll get something like PROTECT MY BITCH PT.2 that’ll also stick, but that’s more because it’s the sort of unrepentant barrage of noise that’ll leave physical marks as opposed to a memory. That’s clearly the point, and it’s the sort of thing that Ho99o9 have been banking on effectively since the beginning, but the only difference is that it feels a bit bigger now, not more focused. Names like Corey Taylor and Saul Williams are noteworthy guests, and huge credit to them for working with what they’re given, but at the end of the day, they aren’t the same elevating presences that they might otherwise be on something more—for lack of a better term—conventional. It’s also worth understanding, though, that Ho99o9 clearly aren’t interested in that, and on its own merits, SKIN is about as effective as everything they’ve done before. For a blasted-out, overwhelming pileup of sound and fury, they’re just as capable of smashing through any barriers in their way, and that’ll be even more true onstage; as a musical experience in the purest definition though, this isn’t going to gel with a lot of people. Still, that’s probably the point, and for those for whom that isn’t as big a stumbling block as it might be made out to be, there’s enough to dig into here beyond just recognising the fireworks that Ho99o9 will bring with it onstage.
For fans of: Death Grips, Backxwash, Show Me The Body
‘SKIN’ by Ho99o9 is released on 11th March on DTA Records.
Words by Luke Nuttall