One of the most astute observations from a Youtube comment thread about “Nigrum Mortem,” the second single from DJ Muggs’ Sacred Bones debut Dies Occidendum, was that it sounded like what old Cypress Hill album covers looked like. There’s good reason for that—Muggs is, of course, the turntable mastermind behind the legendary hip-hop group’s sound, and it doesn’t take too much of a close listen to hear the analog darkness in the band’s first trio of records, even amid their more party-friendly raps. Muggs’ gritty aesthetic always hinted at something even potentially more harrowing—the horror-flick organ throbs of “Throw Your Set In the Air,” the phantasmal atmosphere of “Stoned Raiders,” the hushed undercurrent of terror in “Cock the Hammer.” “Nigrum Mortem” is exactly such a moment, a swirl of disorienting, psychedelic menace, making good on a years-long promise that something even wickeder this way might come.
Dies Occidendum, released only a few weeks after Muggs’ Rome Streetz collaboration Death & the Magician, is the famed Los Angeles producer at his most ghoulish and gothic. These are supernatural and slasher-film soundscapes, consistently eerie throughout and only occasionally riding the line between campy and creepy. Where a group like clipping. uses the idea of horror as a storytelling device, Muggs rides the feeling as far as it’ll go, crafting what feels like a beat tape made from inside a mausoleum.
Muggs’ tones on Dies Occidendum are all various shades of of charcoal and ash, and though they more often than not slap, that’s not necessarily the aim. Strip the trap beats away from “Subconscious” and what’s left is a particularly unsettling drone. Remove the snap of bass and snare from “Anointed” and a blaring siren of a nightmare remains in its place. There are scarcely any moments of brightness or pop immediacy, Muggs instead weaving together sonic treatments that bring more bounce to the bloodbath, whether via harrowing banshee choral vocals on “The Chosen One” or, on “Alphabet of Desire,” the kind of gothic piano loop Mobb Deep might have employed for their own icepick attacks on The Infamous.
At the opening of “The Chosen One,” a sampled voice asks, “The darkside—how could you possibly know anything about the darkside?” For a producer with a taste for aural villainy like Muggs, it’s clearly more than most, but Dies Occidendum offers an opportunity to explore that to its nastiest extent. It seems only fitting that the record find a home on Sacred Bones, a label known as much for gothic and industrial albums as it is horror maestros like David Lynch and John Carpenter. It takes no more than Dies Occidendum‘s brief 30 minutes to come to the realization that Muggs, himself, already belonged to just such a pantheon.
Label: Sacred Bones
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.