Stories from an expansive universe from an artist attempting an epic.
There were the telltale signs of a storyteller in Alpha Riffs debut album From Beta to Alpha. He’s an artist influenced by different styles and genres and a self confessed fan of Coheed & Cambria, progressive rockers with comic book characters that journey through their albums. He’s also a keen script writer so it’s no real surprise that this love of an epic tale translates into his latest release alongside IRL partner MZ.
Epic is no exaggeration. Twenty four tracks!? A reviewers nightmare. You’ll forgive me if I shy away from my usual track by track account and offer up a summary instead.
This is a sci-fi hip-hopera with a linear story played out by an extensive cast of nerdcore regulars and others I’ve not come across. Whilst Alpha Riff plays the cocky lead, MZ forms his counterpart, an artificial intelligence. In attendance are (inhale) TyeFighter, MC Ohm-I, Zilla Persona, Tekforce, Ekaj, Matt Mead, 1-Up. Tyler Boyco, 2Mello, 2-Ton-21, Ish1da, Nyte, Jollimus, Midi Boss, Kordlyss, Forneus Mod, Twill Distilled, Phantastik The Phenom and Aramis (exhale).
As with the intro track there are scenes acted out between tracks to progress the plot whilst the story (and dialogue to a lesser extent) continues into each song. At this point we’re all familiar with Alpha Riff’s ability to adapt to relay emotions or meaning in his vocal style, he’s been a singer and rapper for some time now. MZ on the other hand, I believe, is fairly new to rapping. My biggest gripe comes right at the top of the album on the track The Fate Of Keyware. Taking the responsibility of presenting the opening lines of the first verse on the album I found MZ’s lyrics almost unintelligible, in part due to the muddy delivery but mostly due to the vocal effects. I dare say I’d be more forgiving if this occurred later in the release, but as your first taste of what to expect it’s rather obvious. Persist and you’ll find things a whole lot less bumpy. Where MZ shines brightest is on the previously released single Pixel To Blood. She’s confident, on time, sassy and exudes a sense of fun.
Expect a few surprises in Digital Champions. C.O.D.E Demons presents a very metal chorus whilst the musical style across the twenty four tracks varies widely without ever disrupting the flow of the album. It does, however, very much form a backdrop whilst the story and vocals steal the focus. What this means is that for someone like me who really appreciates the music first and the lyrics second, I’m having a tough time identifying a stand-out track.
Alpha Riff has invested a tremendous amount of time and effort into creating the Digital Champions universe and we can expect a whole lot more as the artist has just announced an initiative that will see many contributors building the world through any number of different media including comics, figurines, video and more.
The album is ambitious and well executed but doesn’t feel like the kind of release you can dip in and out of. As a listener you’re obliged to invest a chunk of time, and whilst this will prove rewarding (You’ll find something new to enjoy with each listen) it’s not something I can commit to. In addition, whilst the standard of the songs is high, there is no catchy anthem that pops out, to my ear, making the whole affair pleasurable, but not memorable. A great effort, many will love it, I’m happy just liking it.
Digital Champions: Migdal Bavel is available to download via bandcamp for a very reasonable $7 now.