Those readers familiar with my reviews may have guessed that I have a bone to pick with modern death metal. In reality, it’s more like a small skeleton. I love death metal, and I’m no retro-fanatic, but the vast majority of death metal that’s been made this decade is about as inventive and impactful as a marshmallow gun. The genre has always risked stagnation through competition, but as of late it’s a pissing contest between dozens of bands trying to be more technical, more brutal, and louder than everyone else, and none of them succeed. Abysmal Dawn is a bit of an outlier in this culture of challenge-urination because they’re ostensibly not trying to one-up anybody but themselves. By doing away with the pretense of competition, they’ve already released two very solid records that stand on their own as confident, competent, and, consequentially, very memorable. On the advent of their third offering, I’m pleased to report that Obsolesence is in every way the equal of Programmed to Consume and Levelling the Plane of Existence.
So why is Abysmal Dawn so good? Well, there are many reasons, but first and foremost is of course, their writing. The band is neither obsessed with complexity nor compositionally reductionist and somehow manages to write diverse, yet extremely focused albums that just plain work. Obsolesence has few if any bummers and little in the way of standouts, and while the songs are easily distinguishable from each other, they’re all very obviously from the same source. You could slap any four songs from the album onto each other and they’d make an killer EP, but here we get nine songs and 40 minutes of pure death with good writing, great performances and no pretense whatsoever, plus a little gift at the end.
Placed exactly where it should be, the album’s best song “Loathed in Life/Praised in Death” is pure black gold from start to finish, segueing its opening melody into a series of interlocking grooves that drummer Scott Fuller sells every second of. The song’s chorus is catchier than the measles, and when the vocals are so excellently delivered by the vocal cohort led by Charles Eliott, it’s impossible to ignore. And speaking of vocals, this album has them all over the place, not only in the shape of Eliott’s remarkably understandable growls, which are again very prominent in the mix, but in twisted and contorted forms created by the backup vocalists and heavy use of effects. “Loathed in Life/Praised in Death” uses heavily processed whispers and screeches to accentuate its grooves, while “By My Demons” opts for a sloppy, gang-vocal chorus that delivers just the right level of madness.
Across Obsolesence, the band doesn’t miss a beat, and from “Human Obsolesence” to “Inevitable Return to Darkness,” performances are to notch. The riffs range from pinch-harmonic screeches to grooves that are so far in the pocket you’d swear the band was shoplifting razors. Solos appear periodically (the best of which is on “Perfecting Slavery,” contributed by Obscura‘s perennially excellent Christian Muenzer) and are always a kick in the pants, especially after a big melody, as seen in “Inevitable Return to Darkness.” Behind all of this is drumming that ranges from great all the way to excellent and basswork that clicks into the songs seamlessly. The mixing of the album is quite good, and while the production is still pretty brickwalled, it has a classic death metal quality to it that I can’t quite put my finger on which makes it way more listenable than most of the death metal that has come out this year.
In addition to a great album, Abysmal Dawn can’t help but give a little more, and so Obsolesence’s final offering is a cover of Dissection‘s “Night’s Blood,” which is completely kick-ass and very true to the original in addition to fitting the tone of this album very well. That’s right- it’s a cover that actually has a place on the album.
Earlier this year I declared The Kennedy Veil‘s Trinity of Falsehood to be the mile marker for what death metal sounds like in 2014; not excellent, not bad, and just about entirely run-of-the-mill. Obsolesence, on the other hand, is what death metal should sound like in 2014. It’s a celebration of the genre and a tribute to what can still be done with a format that has evolved very slowly over the last 30 years. For those who are fed up with the rat-race of death metal, Obsolesence is a must-have.