Death hangs over everything on Hotel Diablo, rapper/actor Machine Gun Kelly's fourth and most well-executed artistic statement to date. Less aggressive than the 2018 trap EP Binge and more pop-savvy than 2017 predecessor Bloom, Hotel Diablo presents Kelly's melding of rap and rock in seamless fashion with balance and finesse. Tortured and introspective, the melodic and genre-fluid set examines childhood trauma, the perils of fame, the demons that continue to haunt him, and creeping mortality. Analyzing his own fast-living lifestyle, he also invokes the spirits of his late friends and contemporaries Nipsey Hussle, Lil Peep, Mac Miller, and Chester Bennington, whose influence looms largest, especially on the Linkin Park-channeling highlight "Hollywood Whore." Clocking in at under 40 minutes, Hotel Diablo is a brisk listen and rarely lags (a pair of comedy interludes halt the momentum somewhat, but they are fortunately short), jumping from the funky, synth-washed intro, "Sex Drive," to aggressive bangers "El Diablo," "Floor 13," and "Roulette." Proving his past hits with female foils weren't just flukes, he recruits guests Naomi Wild, Phem, and Madison Love on a triplet of introspective standouts that delve into suicide, depression, broken relationships, and self-doubt. Much like "Bad Things" and "Home," the vocal interplay amplifies the dramatic depth of his lyrics and helps balance with the more aggressive rap tracks. Of those, Lil Skies provides ample support on the "Sicko Mode"-esque romp "Burning Memories," while Trippie Redd is forced to reflect on his own substance intake with a particularly angsty Kelly on the pained "Candy." Throughout, Kelly drops a guitar lick in here and there, but it's not until album closer "I Think I'm OKAY" that he truly captures the rap-rock marriage that he's been chasing for years. Along with English upstart Yungblud and drummer Travis Barker, Kelly delivers a bouncy rock blast that hints at exciting new directions. With such variation and conviction, Hotel Diablo is a highly enjoyable piece of cathartic release, a peak in Machine Gun Kelly's catalog.
© Neil Z. Yeung /TiVo