Welp, it’s official: I’ve finally joined the likes of Steel Druhm, El Cuervo and Huck n Roll in AMG’s Dad Rock Review Squad. In my defense, this was a total accident. Oblivious’ debut record was mistakenly labeled “Doom Metal” when I found it at the bottom of the thoroughly-picked early February promo barrel, and while I suppose a reasonable line of logic can be traced between the House that Sabbath Built and Oblivious’ brand of fuzzed-up hard rock, it doesn’t do anything to leave me feeling emotionally trampled. Quite the contrary; Oblivious is all about good times paired with tall drinks 1, and while this isn’t music that I naturally gravitate towards, I know enough about it to know that this band does what they do quite well.
See that toad on the album cover, hiding from a recent snowfall by taking shelter under a relatively cozy blanket of leaves? That might as well be yours truly while listening to När Isarna Sjunger, both because the record is a nice break from the the gloomy affairs I’ve covered in the past month,and because finding warmth in a cold place is the general atmosphere that the album conveys. Although Oblivious hails from the snowy wastes of Sweden, their heart lies in the American fuzz of acts like Clutch. To an extent, this contradiction of location and aesthetic carries over to the music; the various ah-ah-ahs that define the backdrops of the record’s refrains succeed at establishing infectious opportunities for crowd participation as well as conjuring a sort of wintry, vaguely mystical vibe. Strong atmosphere is all well and good, but as with any good rock album, NIS is all about the riffs. From bouncy, bluesy grooves (“Fler än Vad Ni Tror”) to slow-n-heavy stoner crawls (“När Isarna Sjunger”), Oblivious’ strings explore a large swath of the rock n roll spectrum, and handles each realm with expert care.
As diverse as Oblivious’ portfolio is, their steadfast dedication to tried and true rock music is also their weakest trait. There are notable instances of creative riffcraft to be found, but even the most innovate guitar work can sound like slant variations of classic riffs. This isn’t to say that the band ever ventures close to plagiarism, but rather that everything sounds so rooted in classic works that Oblivious hardly so much as pokes at established tropes; their sound is defined, yet largely derivative. This isn’t a bad thing by any means with such strong aping skills, but it does mean that När Isarna Sjunger might not be a particularly attractive package when stacked against the whole of the retro rock scene.
Oblivious does show signs of branching out into something a bit more distinct, however. När Isarna Sjunger’s title track is the best of the bunch, sporting a comparatively heavy sound and a chorus anchored by a descending, melancholic vocal chant, creating an unconventionally beautiful number without sacrificing the band’s retro aesthetic. Meanwhile, the semi-ballad closing cut “Hitta Hem” injects a dose of classic southern rock into the proceedings so successfully that it almost sounds like a long-lost genre classic thanks to its infectious whistle melody. Even in these tracks, the no-frills instrumentation doesn’t really allow for Oblivious’ members to flex their instrumental muscle to their fullest, but the harmonized guitar solos and the diverse, warm vocal performances of Isak handily sell the band’s talent nonetheless. All of this is filtered through a predictably fuzzed-out production job that, though not particularly dynamic, delivers exactly what one would hope for from a tonal standpoint.
När Isarna Sjunger isn’t going to net Oblivious any sort of international notoriety or significant accolades from the rock and metal community. Its an unambitious record that sees the band playing music they love for their own enjoyment. Yet this same carefree, garage jam attitude should make it almost universally appealing; I get the feeling that you could throw this album on around any gathering of people with an appreciation for rock music in any part of the world, and no matter where it would travel, people would enjoy the hell out of it. This thing won’t replace the Clutch records on your shelf, but it might just earn a place alongside them. Now alphabetize your collection, you unorganized fogie!