25 years removed from the release of their debut album, Onyx — now a duo comprised solely of Fredro Starr and Sticky Fingaz — are still as just as energetic on their latest effort, Black Rock. Having been early adopters of the rock/rap crossover dating back to their collaboration with Anthrax on the Judgment Night soundtrack, the mad face invasion (having become fixtures on the European scene) have fully integrated heavy guitar sound into their aesthetic, with surprising results.
At a digestible 12 songs, the LP doesn't waste much time easing you into things, as the Slam Boys start off strong with the title song, which plays off of "Black Cop," originally performed by KRS-One. Off the bat — in case you haven't been following the group's recent releases — it establishes that the elements you came to love about Onyx are still intact.
There are some major gems on this LP, such as "O.D.," a three-minute drug metaphor that toys with the idea of being a "music addict," featuring grungy guitars and a guest verse from R.A. the Rugged Man. Then there's "Ima F*ckin Rockstar," which features the super lyrical Skyzoo dropping bars over a neck-snapping snare and heavy guitar riff.
There are missteps, too. The awkward Jamaican accent on the chorus of "Lighters," not to mention the forced flow, makes for a tough listen, and "Point Him Out" has a strangely cheesy feel to it, as though they are trying to over-cater to the rock sound. "What You Want from Me" feels like pure filler.
Black Rock doesn't feel like an album that will win any new (North American) fans, but Onyx have a strong cult following. Songs like "Blinded by the Light" provide a healthy break in character, but Onyx are still the blunt, aggressive force they've always been — with little growth in overall message and direction.
If you're a day one, you'll find more than enough to satisfy your fix from the group. Whether or not you're still here for it is another story. (Independent)