Opener 'Impose My Mode' actually nails it lyrically when Hav says 'stealth mode' - this isn't flamboyant music, it's private, isolated, dark, riding shotgun and worrying the driver, simmering with tension, twitching with imminent menace. As ever with Havoc the flow is both stop-start and fluid, having a continuity thanks to persona and atmosphere but slipping jarring phraseology in just as you get comfortable - the way the track ends in a pile up of reverse sampladelic madness is indicative of how when he's liberated from having to dazzle with his productions (as he feels he has to on his solo records) Alchemist has been able to create tracks that exert supreme control over their excesses. Cumulatively the album builds like nothing else he's made. 'Maintain (Fuck How You Feel)' a gorgeous summery splash of soul-funk that again winds up on a gloriously dubbed out welter of Carnegie-sized jazz-freakiness. 'Out The Frame' is as close as we get to something hook-laden, a twinkly high-keyed riff allowed to pirhouette under Hav's diamond-tight, brilliantly nonchalent rhymes, some Bert'n'Ernie cut-ups (big KMD flashbacks!) and that's yr lot. Again the ending is utterly mindblowing - a pulsing drone vortex around which flickers of vocals bend and refract like Amon Duul. This drone then feeds into the stunning 'Seize Power', Hav spitting syncopated as Camp Lo over this deeply crepuscular low-slung doom-stank funk "Speak my mind, never bite my tongue, that shit for cowards/Any time a nigga get the chance, I'm seizing power". Hav's not really moved anywhere as a lyricist, just got older, just got a little less agitated and a little more stoned and paranoid, still has that capacity for sudden violence - Alch meets him swing for swing on the great arrhythmic freakfest of 'Never Trust A Soul' and the simply staggering 'The Gun Holds A Drum' where old partner Prodigy tag-teams over smeared neon electro-funk worthy of 'Infamous' or 'Hell On Earth' (not in terms of sound but in terms of feel - fucking hell this is a dark and grimy masterpiece). The verses are split by a riot of gunfire and bedlam akin to Public Enemy's most noisy, beatfree collages. Halfway in and you know you're in the presence of a startlingly unfriendly, utterly addictive, uncompromising and brilliant album. From at least one source you didn't expect that from in 2016.
'Smooth Ride Music' lets the beat abscond entirely, like an assassin screwing on a silencer, just a lethal bassline, a keyboard leant on like Miles in coked-repose, little details popping off in the peripheries, divine little scratches and loops, an utterly unique stake-out sense of drift and doom. 'Buck 50s & Bullet Wounds' laces a simply heartbreaking piano loop under solid subtle beats and vocals and even if you're not meant to think about 'Survival Of The Fittest' you do, because it's Hav, but you realise how what you dug about him you can still dig about him but you can also dig the increased depth to his flow and feel, the way he's now able to step out of the street and to a birds-eye-view, a more despairing perspective than he's even managed before (and Mobb Deep made some pretty fucking despairing music). The Method Man cameo actually detracts but more of that dubbed-out noise sends us into the wonderfully atonal 'Just Being Me', as cold and hopeless as prime Kool G Rap - I think Alch has seen 'Silent Partner' as his golden chance to pay total homage to the grittiest and greatest 90s NYC rap, and I hear so many echoes of Show & AG, Real Live, Kool G etc it can't be an accident. Crucially though, Alch pushes it beyond just homage, hits upon a vibe and sound that could only really be created now, a mix between dub/avant-garde sonics and hip hop that's totally his own and that Havoc sits in with glorious ease and natural poise. Closers 'Throw In The Towel' and 'Hear Me Now' wind Havoc home in the frosty dawn with Cormega taking the wheel, both veteran voices nigh-on choked with regret and memory but clearly unafraid of apprehending how doomed and damned and justified they both are, Alch letting everything become a bewitching rumble of grey city drift and diffuseness. 37 of the most irresistable minutes hip hop will give you in 2016. Don't let the hip hop media's meh-ness about this album blind you to it. On the quiet, a stone-cold ice-hot masterpiece.