If 2018 hasn’t proved it already, the state of the current death metal scene is as strong as an ox, from the progressive and technical end of the spectrum, to the revivalist nature of old school death. The latter went through what I largely considered a stale era, during parts of the ’00s in particular, with derivative song-writing and blatant rip-offs stagnating and clogging the everflowing stream and creating treacherous obstacles down the left hand path. Thankfully modern innovators are mining the classic, murky, brutal and uglier aesthetics from the peak of late ’80s and early ’90s death metal and adding a fresh spin via riffs, structures and overall song-writing that offers an exciting perspective while still tipping caps towards the legends of the past.
Obliteration hail from Norway and boast an esteemed pedigree, garnering loads of underground cred and respect. Unfortunately I hadn’t heard of the band until recently and still have much catching up to do. But after listening to 2013’s Black Death Horizon I was impressed with their style. And with a name like Obliteration I expect some goddamn punishing, murky, blood and pus filled death. And in this regard, Obliteration certainly don’t disappoint. Cenotaph Obscure is their fourth LP and an album ready to rumble with the old school death heavyweights of 2018 with just under 40 minutes of blasty, frantic aggression, offbeat twists, and festering grooves. In some ways Obliteration deliver the results I was expecting from Bölzer on their disappointing Hero album; raw and slightly blackened old school death with intriguing spacey and unorthodox elements. Obliteration do so with much greater success and song-writing finesse.
Although the grimy surface of Obliteration‘s rough and feral aesthetic may not sound particularly innovative or crafty beyond being solid old school death, delving deeper reveals the album’s surprising depth, atmospheric charms, and subtle dynamic twists. The opening title track unfurls with ominous tones and a deliberate doomy crawl, before unloading with relentless waves of chaotic brutality and barbaric vocals. It barely lets up until about the halfway mark, where the first of numerous high quality riffs littered across the album makes a decisive wallop at half speed and an eloquently tasteful solo rips through the grime. Obliteration deftly offset their blasting, violent fury with well crafted dynamic shifts. Later album cut “Onto Damnation” reinforces this and is a hell of a tune and another winning example of Obliteration‘s strengths and unwavering intensity, coupling lightning tempos and unrelenting aggression with catchy riffs and sinister grooves. However, while a song like “Eldritch Summoning” rages in psychotic cacophony, it also drags past its welcome and lacks the tight tempo variations of the stronger songs on the album. And though never less than enjoyable, the level of complete immersion and gripping engagement dips from time to time throughout an otherwise high quality album.
Obliteration soundly demonstrate through the predominantly thunderous mid-paced lurch of “Tumulus of Ancient Bones” how well they can operate when dialing back the speed and letting the commanding drumming of Kristian Valbo take control, as fat, dexterous riffs and chewy bass deliver the burly and addictive goods. Standing out from the retro death pack and sounding fresh is no easy feat, but Obliteration tackle the challenge well and Cenotaph Obscure features an adventurous song-writing spirit and a sound littered with odd melodies, off-kilter riffs, and strange rhythmic deviations, lending the album its unique identity, separating Obliteration from the hordes of old school devotees. Always intriguing and fleetingly brilliant, Cenotaph Obscure comes across a tad elusive at times and while there’s noteworthy moments throughout the album, the song-writing falls just short of elite status, though comes close on many occasions. Sound-wise, the raw, no-frills production and thick discernible tones sync nicely with Obliteration‘s equal parts rumbling, frenzied delivery and old school grit.
Cenotaph Obscure is a deceptively original slab of old school death that pulls no punches and finds the experienced band pulling together a taut, grotesque collection of deathly tunes, fringed in doomy blackness and steeped in ominous and unsettling atmosphere. Obliteration have successfully landed another punishing blow for death metal in 2018 with a top notch album that shouldn’t be overlooked in the madhouse end of year rush of life and lists.