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by Luke Baumgarten & r & & r & Dr. Octagon & lt;a href= & quot; & amp;offerid=78941 & amp;type=3 & amp;subid=0 & amp;tmpid=1826 & amp; & quot; & Return of Dr. Octagon & lt;/a & 2 STARS & r & Kool Keith's alter ego, Dr. Octagon, gave a glimpse of a new kind of hip-hop, offering rap as something more than a vehicle for braggadocio, bitches, bling and bullets. In pushing as far past thug as is conceivable (to sci-fi geekery, superheroes and piss jokes), Keith showed that all the ground in between was fertile enough for serious hip-hop to take root.

The fact is, Keith is only one half of Octagon -- maybe like two-thirds. A big part of what made the schizophrenic "half-shark/alligator, half-man" hybrid persona work were the textured, sci-fi environs Automator dreamed up on the 1996 debut. Octagon feels less imposing and less essential.

I guess it shouldn't be surprising that a rapper who has never held anything sacred would turn around and desecrate his most fecund and beloved alter ego. It's that impulse that makes Kool Keith by turns refreshing and horribly disappointing. He goes heavy on the disappointment this time. Luke Baumgarten & r & Check out: "Trees"

AFI & lt;a href= & quot; & amp;offerid=78941 & amp;type=3 & amp;subid=0 & amp;tmpid=1826 & amp; & quot; & December Underground & lt;/a & 2 STARS & r & I'm on lots of Vicodin right now. You should know that. I'm fine, I'll be OK, don't worry about me. You should worry, though, about AFI's Davy Havock. He's a mess -- has been for years now. A mess of angst, hokey nihilism and wrist-slit posturing. This is the guy, remember, who used to write punk songs about key lime pie and his favorite cereal brands, then one day started singing in Latin, painting his nails black and writing songs that referenced the Inquisition.

At the beginning of that transition, though, the elements worked. Black Sails in the Sunset is a gothcore opus, doing dark emo better than any band has since. Ensuing albums gradually dropped the core in favor of Cure-approved elements. These too were, in large part, successful. December Underground, though, takes the goth and ups the wattage, creating a thrashy, arena-metal Frankenstein that's thematically cacophonous, disjointed and really kinda boring. It has me longing for the Latin song titles. "Malleus Maleficarum," how we miss ye. -- Luke Baumgarten & r & Check out: "Love Like Winter"
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