I listened to The Cold Vein again this morning. Even after listening to it for years, it hasn’t lost any of its power. It’s an astonishingly great record, one of the best of the last decade. So when Cannibal Ox announced late last year that they were finally recording a follow-up after an eleven year hiatus, it was impossible not to get excited. That is, until El-P made it clear that he wouldn’t be involved in any way. Vast Aire and Vordul Mega are incredible MCs, but The Cold Vein would not have been the album it was without El-P’s spooky post-apocalyptic sci-fi beats. In lieu of El-P, Can Ox hooked up with some guy named Bill Cosmiq, who produced all three songs on their new Gotham maxi-single.
On “Gotham (Ox City),” Vordul seems tired, although Vast Aire doesn’t sound vocally different than he did a decade ago. Vast kicks off his verse on “Gases in Hell (Inhale),” a solo song billed as a Cannibal Ox song, with lyrics from “Iron Galaxy,” helpfully reminding everyone that he’s not the rapper he once was. The weak hook isn’t helping matters either. Weird references to 30 Rock have replaced Vast’s old comic book fixation. Saying that he’s bigger than Grizz and Dotcom is nowhere near as cool as saying that he’s got the stroll of Galactus, now he’s planet swallowing. Vordul is still great lyrically, but his energy level is painfully low on “Psalm 82.” Bill Cosmiq beats are pretty good, but El-P’s were so much better that these new songs can’t help but seem weak by comparison. The cinematic vibe and the palpable paranoia are gone, replaced with boilerplate (but again, still pretty good) underground rap beats. If this is what we can expect from the rest of the album, then it’ll be an unfortunate footnote on their otherwise great career as group.
For comparison, here are some of the highlights from The Cold Vein.
 I can’t emphasize enough that I’m talking about Cannibal Ox as a group rather than their solo careers. While both put out very good solo debuts, they paled in comparison to The Cold Vein and their subsequent output has been forgettable.