Sematary is a rapper. He’s also his own executive producer, merch designer, music video director and sole founder of the micro-label Haunted Mound; in other words, he plays all the roles a truly independent artist must, if they wish to remain independent. Don’t picture him in the image of a hard-working kid—he’s a Satanic Southern white guy, decked out head-to-toe in True Religion Jeans, with a pallor that only years of RedBull, Marlboros and gas station beef jerky can provide. Still, Sematary is undeniably prolific, having released “Rainbow Bridge 3” in April this year, and the prior two installments between early 2019 and now. In the same span of time, he’s released two more collaborative mixtapes with Ghost Mountain, “HUNDRED ACRE WRIST HOSTED BY DJ SORROW” and “GRAVE HOUSE.” Ghost Mountain was a working musician and Sematary’s best friend until a few months ago, when he quit his short career to focus on college. Seemingly in retaliation, Sematary signed on copycats of himself to Haunted Mound, with names such as Buckshot, Hackle and Grimoire artificially inflating the group’s imagined cultural cachet.
The thing is, they’re basically just a bunch of guys making Chief Keef bass-boosted memes. By that, I mean that Sematary’s primary influence, and therefore all of Haunted Mound’s, is Back-From-The-Dead-era rapper Chief Keef. Sematary echoes the earliest days of Sosa’s monotonous delivery, simple hooks and repetitive, addictive drill production. Sematary produces almost everything himself, easily discernible given the certain screeching and whirling synthesizer that shows up—only slightly modified from its previous appearance—on nearly every track. The phasers and autotune that hide his voice cut through the mess, and make him more audible than you might think, but not more listenable. Since there are only a couple of features, there simply isn’t enough vocal variation to keep an audience engaged throughout (not to mention that the features aren’t trying to do anything differently from Sematary). Yet this still doesn’t quite capture Sematary’s sound, because the bass is beyond boosted: It crackles, bloated due to compression and the very intentional wall of distortion. This description may sound derogatory, but it’s actually the absence of harsh noise on this project that makes it less likeable. Unfortunately, “Screaming Forest” lacks all of the punch of “Rainbow Bridge 3.” The drums feel strangely hollow. The samples sound newly brittle and cheap, and not the good kind of brittle and cheap found in the original ’90s death metal songs that Sematary sources from. Lo-fidelity music has this internal conflict where, because it’s sometimes produced in a way that is normatively bad according to the larger standards of the industry, it’s hard to explain what makes good lo-fi different from bad-lo-fi. Admittedly, it’s just as hard to justify the appeal of “RB3” because the differences are so petty you could make the argument that there are realistically none, but I hear them. Despite the appeal of the workaholic underground artist, I think Sematary should take more than five months to come up with new material.
Sematary actually worsens the unexpectedly engaging songwriting he honed on “RB3,” as he now depends on an antiquated verse-chorus-verse-chorus structure to pad out his songs to the three3-minute mark. I don’t like using another album as such a comparative crutch, but the drop in quality from one project to the next confounds me. Each transition from verse to hook feels like changing the gears on a rusty old hearse—if hyperpop can be a trend with some mainstream appeal, why does Sematary force himself to work within the most traditional pop arrangement? With how legitimately avant-garde Sematary’s work is, it’s strange that “Screaming Forest” feels like a step backward, and I can’t help but wonder if it has to do with the self-destructiveness of irony in music. Music like Sematary’s is like Bladee’s, 100gecs’ or any other niche Internet musician, in that it is very much a joke and totally serious all at once.
It is music that is difficult to talk about, because it’s not exactly taking itself seriously, so how could you? Lines like “In the haunted forest, eatin’ Count Chocula” from the song “Hocky Mask” and “We got dumb long musket cutters just like Davy Crockett” from “Scarecraw” are so stupid that they’re entertaining only in their stupidity. Most other lyrics are variations on typical Halloween iconography detailing who dies, how, and when, as well as Sematary’s own lore that includes a love for country bumpkin-adjacent cigarettes and cornfields. But Sematary’s writing used to be at least a little wittier, and he had yet to dilute his uniqueness with the aforementioned clones, so I’m truly at a loss for where this blend of drill and experimental music will go. Hopefully, somewhere else other than here.