Even a quick glance over Obake’s international lineup will tell you that this is not your run-of-the-mill extreme metal band. Nope, the musicians involved in this band are not metal musicians in the traditional sense and they all have backgrounds rooted in jazz, avant garde, improvisational music, and progressive rock. But what could have been their downfall, turns out to be their greatest strength as they build their music on the basis of this stylistic dichotomy. After a good but nothing special self-titled debut, Obake come back with a vengeance on their sophomore release Mutations that thrashes away any sense of unfulfilled potential and questionable direction that previously loomed over the band.
Their Facebook page says “Genre: You name it…it blasts” and it turns out to be the most appropriate way to describe Obake’s music. But really, how do they sound? What they play is definitely metal, but the soul of the music is different. Their immediate approach is that of an amalgamation of many extreme metal subgenres. You can hear some death metal and grindcore reminiscent of Dying Fetus on “Seven Rotten Globes,” then there’s the heavy, impenetrable sludginess of Ufomammut on “Infinite Chain,” Melvins-like riffs on “M,” grooves akin to Gorefest on “Seth Light,” and even a nod towards Tool on “Second Death of Foreg.” You get the picture. Obake sound like all of those bands and yet not quite like any of them. Name-dropping aside, they don’t merely copy these bands and artists.
The music instead feels as if you gave an array of metal motifs, riffs, and principles to someone not bound by the genre’s preconceptions and expectations. Then they proceed to use and glue these elements together to create music that on the surface might seem familiar, but that actually hides something else entirely beneath its shell. It’s the musical equivalent of Frankenstein’s monster. It’s a non-metal metal album in its purest form and it’s beautiful in a gruesome way. There’s no doubt that the musicians enjoy playing and toying with these concepts immensely without having to worry about where that exploration takes them. Still, while the band navigates a variety of mundane metal styles, what they weave them around feels somewhat alien. Indeed, the core of the music is made of structures that might have more in common with jazzcore bands such as Zu than with anything else. But it’s only a more attentive, deeper listen that will reveal these details that sound a bit strange and not quite as you expect them to.
Where’s the catch? Well, there is no catch. Obake make powerful music, straight and simple. Each of the eight songs on the album are at least very good, there are no fillers, and they even manage to make an ambient track (“Burnt Down”) sound interesting and not out of place as often happens when metal bands dabble with ambient stuff. For all its quirks, Mutations is the kind of album that you would expect Mike Patton to appear on. Furthermore, all the genres that they tackle, they tackle flawlessly. But there’s gotta be a downside, right? Well, even though the songwriting is great, the similarity to other bands that I outlined above does take a toll. They’re never exactly derivative, but it’s not particularly exciting to be reminded so heavily of Dying Fetus’s “Praise The Lord (Opium Of The Masses)” by the introductory riff of the first song on the album (“Seven Rotten Globes”).
Besides this minor (or major, as you choose to see it) blemish, nothing falls short on the album. The production is warm and well-suited to the music and the musicians are, well, awesome. The vocalist Lorenzo Esposito Fornasari is a chameleon that can use either an operatic voice or guttural, hellish growls. Balázs Pándi and Colin Edwin provide a solid rhythmic background, whether grindcore speed or jazzy, glitchy rhythms are required, while Eraldo Bernocchi churns out mighty, heavy riffs. What’s more important, there’s synergy between them all.
“Mutations” is certainly one of the most enjoyable albums I’ve come across this year. If you can look past the obvious influences that the band cherishes, you’ll find some great songs and musicianship on this album as well as more than a few surprises.