Respect. Sometimes it’s given freely and graciously and sometimes it must be torn away grudgingly. Whether you’re prepared to give it up easily or not, Crematory deserve respect for reaching album 14, especially since most of those albums are composed of the same uber silly clubtronic techno-goth rock. Sounding like a slightly heavier Rammstein, these Germanic oddballs have been trying to perfect their blend of club beats, death vocals and goth concepts as long as I can remember, and I admit with some trepidation, I dig the concept when they get it to gel properly. The last time that happened for me was 2014s Antiserum, which was good, mindless fun with just enough boots and/or pants to offset the wonky cheese factor in the metal. 2016s Monument saw their towering edifice of dance fever tumble down due to lineup changes and uninspired writing, and I hoped Oblivion would get the fiend club kids moving in the right direction again. Is that ominous album title a grim foreshadowing or has the panic at the disco ended?
Getting things off to an awkward start, lead in “Expectation” sounds like intro music the band would play right before taking the stage. It feels pointless and silly leading off a studio album with it, and the dramatically intoned spoken words are cringe-inducing, especially when it concludes with “please welcome, Crematory.” Welcome them to what, their own album? Huh? Once “Salvation” finally uncorks, it’s clear the standard Crematory template was used once again without upgrades or add-ons. It’s simple riffs swabbed with copious rave keyboards and long-time vocalist Felix trading lines with newish clean vocalist/guitarist Tosse Basler. I’ve always enjoyed Felix’s death rasps and still do, but Basler’s whiny singing doesn’t sit well with me, and the perpetual Sneer ov Destiny he rocks in the video makes me want to yank his fake looking beard down to get him to stop. That aside, it’s typical Crematory. Simple, silly, oddly memorable, and so ridiculously cheesy it will bind you up for a fortnight.
The rest of the album plays out much the same way – super-simplistic tunes that try, and often do deliver a catchy chorus. “Ghosts of the Past” and “Until the Dawn” will stick in one’s head without much effort and provide guilty pleasures aplenty. “Revenge is Mine” is heavier and more testosterone-charged with nice death croaks from Felix. “For All of Us” is one of the heaviest songs the band’s done in a while, mixing downt-tuned riffing with electronica right off the Mortal Kombat soundtrack. They even include a heavy breakdown for all those pits that pop up in dance clubs these days. I like it despite my better judgment and feel the resulting shame. To the band’s credit, Oblivion is very consistent from track to track and nearly all of them have some insidious little hook.
I’m not going to discuss the production, as it’s what you can expect from a metal band incorporating blaring club music, but I will say the 52-minute runtime is too long for this kind of music. The band’s shtick has always come across as a novelty and as such, 40-42 minutes is about as much as I stomach, and by the time fairly decent cuts like “Cemetery Stillness” and “Blessed” arrive, I’ve left the club with a headache and a wristband I can’t seem to tear off. Less disco death is more, you see.
Being a fan of Felix’s vocals, he’s always the main attraction for me, and he sounds as good as ever here. He even goes extra heavy on some tracks, sounding like his Stass side project with Rogga “I have 500 bands” Johansson. My big issue is with Mr. Basler. His cleans are too weak and reedy, lacking any semblance of grit, grime or nutsack. I miss former singer Matthias Hechler and apparently I’m not moving on. Luckily, the guitars often pack more crunch this time out, which is a big plus, but as always the keyboards of Katrin Jülich can be so damn cheap and cloying I don’t know whether to laugh to cry.
While Oblivion is not a classic Crematory release by any means, it’s a step up from Monument and reminds me why I keep giving these weirdos more chances. Their style is utterly ridiculous, but sometimes we need that, and they’ve been delivering it since 1993, un-ironically and with surprising conviction. That deserves some respect, like it or not.