An MC of historically unblinking morbidity, New York's Cage drops his Def Jux debut in the swirl of a mighty buzz but packs the lyrical bones to back it up.

An MC of historically unblinking morbidity, New York's Cage drops his Def Jux debut in the swirl of a mighty buzz but packs the lyrical bones to back it up. "Hell's Winter" is a bleak but banging debut that manages to weave in elements of labelmate Aesop Rock with tricky stutter-step rhymes in the Eminem vein.

Over his new label's traditionally bleary-funk production (furnished by El-P and RJD2, among others), Cage rolls up his sleeves and drops sinister verses about his father's abusive nature ("Too Heavy For Cherubs," with a great demented-slack-key-sounding sample), doomed narratives of drugs, hypocrisy and violence ("Stripes") and, most effectively, the critical-maze situation faced by troops overseas (the DJ Shadow-produced "Grand Ol Party Crash," which guest stars Jello Biafra as a Bushism-spouting president: "I need petrol for my Mercedes / but I'm not tryin' to kneel or die for Emperor Cheney").

Other names on the appropriately bizarre invite list include Matt Sweeney, Head Automatica's Daryl Palumbo and Yo La Tengo's James McNew. It ain't what you'd call a fun little spin, but then again, there's a reason "The Inferno" is the most popular of Dante's "Divine Comedy": It's dark, syrupy, addictive and often illuminating.

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