DAILY RECORD: Obliteration

by | Dec 16, 2013 | MUSIC

Obliteration – Black Death Horizon (Relapse Records)

2013 was quite possibly the most creatively fertile year for death metal in at least two decades, though it’s up for speculation as to why, exactly. My speculation is that genres that had attracted more positive critical attention outside of the metal press had become tepid and unthreatening. Black metal lends itself to all sorts of stylistic meddling, much of which came off affected and devoid of the intensity that has defined the best of the genre. Meanwhile, doom metal has produced a handful of excellent releases, but given the state of the economy not many people could afford the quantity of drugs necessary to render interesting the recent steady stream of Eyehategod and Electric Wizard clones. And of course, thrash metal is only just beginning to outgrow its party phase (or worse yet, its Pantera shadings).

Obliteration – Black Death Horizon (Relapse Records)

2013 was quite possibly the most creatively fertile year for death metal in at least two decades, though it’s up for speculation as to why, exactly. My speculation is that genres that had attracted more positive critical attention outside of the metal press had become tepid and unthreatening. Black metal lends itself to all sorts of stylistic meddling, much of which came off affected and devoid of the intensity that has defined the best of the genre. Meanwhile, doom metal has produced a handful of excellent releases, but given the state of the economy not many people could afford the quantity of drugs necessary to render interesting the recent steady stream of Eyehategod and Electric Wizard clones. And of course, thrash metal is only just beginning to outgrow its party phase (or worse yet, its Pantera shadings). Regardless of the accuracy of my opening statement, though, the year has seen death metal offer a rare level of quality from a diverse cross-section of the genre – whether that’s the straight-forward take on the style offered by veterans like Carcass, Autopsy, or Exhumed; the deeply unsettling psychological horror and nightmarish menace of bands like Vastum or Portal; or the mind-bending technicality of Ulcerate and Gorguts. But few newer bands captured the verve of the style’s first wave better than Obliteration.

The Norwegian quartet’s third full-length covers much the same territory as their previous albums, a quick succession of dense, unpretentious blasts of death metal the way it was made between 1985 and 1989. No crisp digital polish, no unneccessary technicality, only an oddly catchy array of riffs that present enough variety that, though covering familiar territory, keeps the material interesting. From the opening dirge and funereal bell tolling of “The Distant Sun (They Are The Key)” to the thrash tinges of “Goat Skull Crown” to the vaguely death-n-roll inflections of “Sepulchral Rites” (especially the guitar solos), the band runs spryly through their forebears’s respective back catalogs, artfully extracting everything that worked and forgoing anything extraneous.

Black Death Horizon succeeds because, despite its influences coming off readily apparent to anybody versed in the genre – the doomy tendencies and expressive vocal delivery of Autopsy, the propulsive catchiness of late Nihilist and early Entombed, the warm recording quality of Soulside Journey-era Darkthrone – these elements are reflected and intermingled so seamlessly that their origins hardly matter. Obliteration don’t come off as some band crafting pastiches of their preferred old-school acts, instead opting for an approach that demonstrates their ability to learn from, rather than steal from, the bands from whom they draw influence.

While many of the more memorable death metal albums this year attempted to nudge at the genre’s boundaries, helping it inch outward from a tried-and-true core, Obliteration’s ability to reflect the fundamentals without coming off as a cheap retro throwback ensure them a place in the style’s recent pantheon. Once again, they have demonstrated their ability to consistently churn out a steady stream of material that refuses to sacrifice relevance to reverence, and in the process, despite some stiff competition, have released one of the most enjoyable metal albums of 2013.

Marilyn Drew Necci

Marilyn Drew Necci

GayRVA editor-in-chief, RVA Magazine editor for print and web. Anxiety expert, proud trans woman, happily married.




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