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  • Writer's pictureMartin Vaux

Album Review: There Existed An Addiction To Blood by clipping.


The fourth full album from experimental Californian hip-hop band Clipping ploughs a slightly familiar furrow, offering some high highs, middling middles, and a continuation of their fierce, blistering, cryptic story.


There is no particular reason you should know who Clipping are – or ‘clipping.’ as they style themselves. Their cultishness is deliberate. The band writes music that is willfully exacting, musically and lyrically, and they have a hardcore fan-base whose online musings and dedication to clipping.’s music borders on feverish.


The group consists of three people: electronic music producers William Hutson and Jonathan Snipes, both of whom have dabbled in film and TV work, and actor, rapper, singer and songwriter Daveed Diggs.


Of those names, Diggs is likely the only one that rings a bell. He is that same Daveed Diggs who rose to fame through having starred in the first production of Hamilton as Marquis de Lafayette and Thomas Jefferson. He has also been in quite a few films and TV shows, including this year’s excellent Netflix original movie Velvet Buzzsaw – a film that I really rather loved, and highly recommend.



As clipping. the trio make what is sometimes called ‘noise hop’ – a brand of industrial hip-hop that is built around the use of unusual, dissonant sounds to provide the instruments on compositions that are then sometimes sung or rapped on top of.


This niche musical genre enjoyed a crossover moment with the release of Kanye West’s Yeezus in 2013, and other artists celebrated within the movement include the likes of Death Grips, B L A C K I E, Saul Williams, and El-P, one half of popular rap duo Run The Jewels.


While industrial music, particularly industrial metal, has its advocates, it remains a fairly obscure genre, and one that is out of fashion. The average person likely knows of Nine Inch Nails, Marilyn Manson, Rob Zombie, and maybe even Throbbing Gristle, even if they don’t particularly like them; they probably also know the sonic and thematic palette – songs designed to unsettle, often intricate, often intended to be played loud, during which distortion is frequently used as an instrument in and of itself.


The band name clipping. speaks to this idea – the term alludes to a recorded sound being so loud that it ‘clips’ and is cut off by a given sound recorder, creating a hissing noise. The term also relates, of course, to the reload of a semi-automatic gun magazine, and criticism of America’s gun culture is one of the band’s recurrent themes.



When listening to this album then, it is worth having some context, although it might be considered unnecessary. You can just jump into There Existed An Addiction To Blood and enjoy what it has to offer, particularly the best song on the album, Blood of the Fang, but there is a bigger picture that further enhances the listening experience.


The group self-released their first album, Midcity, in 2013 and were quickly signed to Sub Pop Records, a music imprint most famous for having released Nirvana’s music in the late 80s and early 90s. That first album is abrasive, rough and raw, like the ugly younger brother of the outstanding Trent Reznor/Saul Williams’ project The Inevitable Rise and Liberation of NiggyTardust!


Midcity is well worth a listen if you like experimental hip-hop, although it is probably a little on the long side; it’s not that any of the songs are particularly bad, but it could have done with a trim. Moreover, the sustained, minimalist, rhythmic bludgeoning it offers means that by the end of the experience it is hard not to feel like you are crawling out of the crumbled, concrete ruins of a demolished tenement building – one that exploded while you were inside.


That album features some solid hooks, is witty, clever, punkishly uncouth, and it sets the template against which all subsequent clipping. albums ought to be compared. On it, Diggs sounds a bit like OutKast’s Andre 3000, the aforementioned Williams, and it is easy to connect his style of rapping to that of Childish Gambino, whose ubiquitous This Is America was one of the defining hip hop songs of last year.



As much as Diggs sounds good, he is also that album’s weak point – he can astound technically, his wordplay often being extraordinary and his pace blistering at times, but on that record in particular he identifies himself as no great poet. Very often, it’s hard to reach quite what he’s getting at, if he is getting at anything at all, and this can be an issue with clipping.’s music to this day.


That debut record also featured a song called Story that, at the time, seemed simple enough – only on this new album, There Existed An Addiction To Blood, there is a song called Story 7; their discography is peppered with other chapters of this ongoing narrative, although try as you might you will not yet find Story 3 or Story 6 anywhere as yet – the tale is ongoing, and snaking, and a lot of fun.


clipping. followed MidCity with CLPPNG in 2014, an album that demonstrated how cerebral the group consider themselves; much of the album is dedicated to a concept portion, with songs that stand alone well enough but which tie together to tell the intricate, interesting story of an evening going sideways.


The album and its videos also demonstrated skills related to big concepts and production that saw the group release songs that toyed with the aesthetic of chart-friendly rap while satirising and subverting it. The net result was a better record overall, and one that was more considered as well as lyrically impressive.


It was at this point in clipping.’s journey that Diggs went off to star in Hamilton, with the group coalescing again afterwards clearly emboldened by Diggs’ exposure and the praise he had garnered.

If things hadn’t be strange or conceptual enough before though, 2016 saw the trio push the boat out right onto the horizon with two releases – the smutty, disposable, banger-heavy Wriggle E.P. and the insanely intricate, almost impenetrable concept album Splendor & Mercy.



For my money, this is where the band lost a step; while Wriggle contained one of clipping.’s best songs to date, Shooter, Splendor & Mercy proved to be an extraordinarily and, I would argue, overly ambitious undertaking; a concept album about an escaped space-slave ensconced and losing his mind within the blackness of the universe.


That record married computer noises and synth sounds with spiritual gospel singing, knotty lyrics, and abstruse, melancholic, lo-fi verses… it was a Marmite album, very bold indeed, but just too pretentious and gradual for me to enjoy.


The wait to hear the new clipping. album has therefore been tantalizing. The group did release two Extended Players, Face in 2018 and The Deep earlier in 2019, both of which were pretty thrilling but fragmentary; the first centred on a filthy, angry, gripping banger about being threatened while the second hinted at another concept album, this one all about mermaids.


When singles began to drop for There Existed An Addiction To Blood however, the tone had changed yet again. The new sonic smorgasbord was clearly inspired by 70s and 80s horror movie soundtracks, and as a huge fan of the music of John Carpenter and films of that era I could not have been much more pleased.



Now that the album is here in full, there are a few headlines. The record features a number of interstitial instrumentals, including an 18-minute closing track called Piano Burning. That song is exactly what it sounds like – the crackles, pops and clangs of a piano turning slowly to ash. clipping. have written albums with instrumentals before, and often close records with long ones, but for my money the instrumentals on this album are their best to date – I heartily recommend listening to them on headphones, particularly Piano Burning. They are great.


It is also highly, highly significant that the album was released now, just before Halloween. It’s an album about hauntings, reckonings, the horror of modern life, particularly in the African American community, and mortality first and foremost. A lot of the album is about the futility of trying to escape – whether that be from threatening strangers, enemies, or supernatural moral judgement. It’s hardly meditative, but it’s philosophical, despite the brashness and insolence of some of the lyrics, evoking one emotion most of all: fear.


This isn’t virgin territory. Horrorcore is a whole other niche rap sub-genre which has generated notable works by the likes of Kool Keith, Geto Boys and Gravediggaz. The Insane Clown Posse and Eminem are also adherents, but very often horrorcore rap is just too silly and campy to respect. And there are moments on There Existed An Addiction To Blood that do walk the line a bit, but mostly this is an album to be taken seriously, even if it doesn’t shy away from cracking wise from time to time.


What prevents the album from becoming truly excellent is its overly-regular reference to drugs, as exemplified by third single La Mala Ordina. Although the normal expectations of gangster rap include the idea that the shadow economy will feature, here such references often feels superfluous; the record doesn’t dig as deep as something like YG and Kendrick Lamar’s brilliant single Really Be (Smokin N Drinkin), a song about how young black men self-medicate to deal with their pain, unequipped to discuss mental health concerns more constructively.



Instead of shooting for profundity, the album refers to drugs just as an inevitable evil – they offer the hope of liberty but ultimately beckon destruction – and that is pretty much all it has to say, over and over again. There is something impactful about how this speaks to a sense of hopelessness at the heart of the American gangster lifestyle, and of the hopelessness of many who want young men to avoid falling into its trap, but the idea is just not profound or interesting enough to elevate many of these songs to the level of essential listening.


There are high points. Nothing Is Safe is a cracking ballad, He Dead is brilliant, sinister, creeping song, and All In Your Head is a wonderfully innovative example of clipping. at their best, fusing hammer clangs, the sound of amplifier cables being plugged and unplugged, street corner banter and gospel singing. As an album, there is a clear sense of cohesion and artistic intent, and although much of the content is alienating it is mean to be – it’s mostly really good.


The trouble is, clipping. are an offbeat band, and I keep waiting and hoping that they will write an album to sit alongside something like Vince Staples’ Summertime ’06, Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly, or even the three albums released by Run The Jewels so far. Certainly they have the skills to do it, but maybe I’m hoping for the wrong thing.


Maybe clipping. are exactly where they want to be, crawling about in the scuzz of a sonic grave, howling to the moon, clanking their chains, and listening patiently as pianos burn...



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