La Coka Nostra Masters of the Dark Arts

When La Coka Nostra's first album, A Brand You Can Trust, came out in 2009, critics either championed or panned it, but for essentially the same reason. Some appreciated Everlast's influence, with the country-western, sing-song element (see "Stain"), while others hated it, citing it as an inconsistency. With their second album, Masters of the Dark Arts, the remaining members of the crew – everyone except Everlast, who's currently dealing with family issues – tightened the reins on their sound and made things a hell of a lot more unidirectional. Masters of the Dark Arts is more or less a one-way ticket to hell – half of the album sounds like it was produced in the same underground dungeon as Gravediggaz's Six Feet Deep, heavy with organs, while the other half is reminiscent of the Snowgoons' collaboration with M.O.P. (Sparta) or perhaps some Immortal Technique records. "My Universe," featuring Vinnie Paz, the show-starter, is an organ- and synth-laden number (produced by Statik Selektah) that showcases the lyrical nimbleness of Ill Bill. Most of the time on this project it sounds as though the MCs are trying to cram as much lyrical content into their rhymes as possible, but not on this one, and it's refreshing. "Malverde Market" is another nice change-up, featuring organ and narco-saint samples in a beat by Ill Bill. This is definitely a record where the beat strings along the MCs, guiding them through their self-inflicted labyrinths. Masters of the Dark Arts is not what you would call a "happy: album – most of the rhymes are angry and the majority of the lyrics employ metaphors and analogies so that the members can lodge their complaints against society and the biz. La Coka Nostra, with the departure of Everlast, are 100-percent radio unfriendly, and Slaine, Ill Bill, DJ Lethal and Danny Boy wouldn't have it any other way. (Fat Beats)