Oblivion – that place your former love strives to condemn you having finally thrown the light to her back and, by some awful osmosis, assumed her final form – a level 99, stat-maxed Succubitch whose consuming impulse can only be satiated with all your fucking money and a pound of flesh no Phoenix Down will ever resurrect. But I digress. In this instance, I am of course referring to Oblivion, the American technical death metal band and Unique Leader alum, as they prepare to roll out second full length, The Path Towards… Having generated quite the buzz with their debut album thanks, in no small part, to the reputation of frontman, Dr. Nick Vasallo, whose legacy as musical professor, composer extraordinaire and deathcore wizard continues to precede him, expectations were set justifiably high. While the band have been critically lauded, the so called “sophomore slump” shares a mood pallet with my ex and can often prove quite the savage – so where exactly does this Path Towards… lead? Infinity or beyond?
Honestly, the answer is a conflicting one. Oblivion undoubtedly know their way around a riff – plenty of the songs here sport a burly muscularity with just enough tech heft to keep it interesting. “Dominion” marries tiny microcosms of melody to thickly hewn chugging before indulging in spots of off-kilter soloing; as an introduction, it’s certainly effective. In fact, much of the record’s first half revels in a certain bloody-knuckled kineticism. “Mechanistic Hollow” and “Awaiting Autochthon” – penned by Karl Sanders and featuring a vocal spot by Enrico H. Di Lorenzo of Hideous Divinity – both deal in superhuman rhythms while the latter indulges in progressive nuances to bolster the dense riffing. Vasallo and Ted O’Neill’s guitars continuously ply the album with uncompromising brawn and, individually, the songs are a welcome beating.
The problem, however, is when taken as a whole, the album just seems to lack the necessary impact. When “Concrete Thrones,” the record’s strongest and most immediate cut, lashes out with its heady collection of alternating tremolo sequences, it’s not only memorable, but suitably flaying – but the album seems to host an inexplicable parasite that neutralises the material’s efficacy as a gestalt whole. “Harsh Awakening” engages with a crushing polyrhthmic groove but somehow meanders into monotony by indulging in derivative core mechanics for the remainder of the song – unsurprising given the entire rhythm section’s history with Antagony, but it seems to feature in direct ignorance of good songwriting, which surprised me, considering Vasallo’s academic quality. While the unquestionable presence of Atheist looms large over the schizoid progressions of “Awaiting Autochthon” and “It Has Become,” the latter feels disjointed, particularly in the context of the entire album. To make matters worse, The Path Towards… is heavily front-loaded, blurring its increasingly derivative latter into redundancy upon repeat listens.
Although comprised of prodigiously able musicians, it would appear that, to some degree, Oblivion have buckled under the weight of their own lofty expectations. While drummer, Luis Martinez, often employs a scattershot of double bass spreads and off-the-cuff blasts, the songs’ insistent reliance on mid-paced tempos does nothing to delineate the album’s character. “Zenith” does offer the record some relevant diversity in its blackened signature, tracing that genre’s rhythmic swarm over Oblivion‘s death metal authority. It’s a good song, trading vocals between Vasallo’s coarse bark and guest appearances by Antagony‘s Carlos Saldana and the controversial Eddie Hermida of All Shall Perish and Suicide Silence, but, again, the band’s attempt at variety finds itself glaringly conspicuous. “Under A Dying Sun” closes the record and ups the awkward ante by existing as a protracted doom entity, clashing with the mood of the album even further and quelling not just the record, but the last embers of interest I am able to muster.
Oblivion‘s riff heavy brand of tech influenced death metal is certainly formidable at times, but The Path Towards‘ bizarre habit to insistently repeat the same motifs and then brashly modify the formula right at the end is frustrating to say the least. A handful of the tracks here are prime candidates for excision and inclusion in a quality playlist, but when the material struggles to exist within the context it was intended, it’s hard to deem the record a success. Considering the band’s reputation and ability, my summary will no doubt be divisive, but, in a year so full of titanic death metal – tech, brutal, progressive or otherwise – The Path Towards… wanders much further down the list than it should.