Obsolete – Animate//Isolate Review

I’ve spent much of this year listening to Obituary and Mortician. Both are death metal, but death metal is a wide field and you can’t mistake either band’s sound for the other’s. To address this, we put bands into subgenres within a subgenre – Floridian death metal, for instance. This is nice because I don’t want to sift through a bunch of Entombed clones to find something like Monstrosity. What about when our subgenres within subgenres cease to be useful to describe a sound? Then we get stuff like slam, which is brutal death metal played a specific way – a subgenre of a subgenre within a subgenre. If you’re thinking that Obsolete’s debut Animate//Isolate will lead me down a sub-sub-sub-genre rabbit hole, go ahead and give yourself an executive producer credit, even though it was pretty obvious that’s where this was headed.

When I use the term “death-thrash” to seek out music, I hope for bands like Morbid Saint, Massacra, and Slaughterer to result. That’s a specific type of death-thrash though, one which is called such because it operates in the space between death and thrash, keeping one foot in both. Obsolete is called “technical death-thrash” which suggests something more difficult to play than Enjoy the Violence or Spectrum of Death, records which you already can’t be a slouch to pull off. To my ears, Obsolete distinguishes themselves from Morbid Saint and their ilk because instead of playing thrash in a way so extreme it partially crosses over into death metal, Obsolete takes technical death metal old (Atheist, later Death) and new (Obscura, Decrepit Birth) and puts it into a thrash mold. Thus, “technical death-thrash” means that Obsolete are basically playing tech-death like a thrash band would play it on Animate//Isolate.

Technically even that isn’t a full description, as we could call this “technical melodic death-thrash.” For those that remember Decrepit Birth’s Polarity and Obscura’s Cosmogenesis for the moments that focused on melodicism in the vein of Symbolic, it seems Obsolete does too. This isn’t exactly visceral stuff, and the most violent auditory thing here are the vocals. This approach works on “The Fog,” which impresses with emotive lead work and keeps the speed up with an athletic drum performance. When the vocals kick in, it reminds me of the better moments on Cosmogenesis albeit with less overtly technical drumming. “The Slough” also reminds of Cosmogenesis’s high points, its frantic riffing benefiting from quick and smart transitions and a short song length. The most interesting moment comes in “Silent Freeway” when it opens on a speed metal riff, and then forces it into the Atheist/Obscura mold successfully for the verse. Compared to the rest of the record, this song is relatively restrained in its technicality and all the better for it, as it has kinetic impact and greater memorability while also showing off the seriously impressive chops of the band.

The almost single-minded focus on technicality reminds me of Arsis’s We Are the Nightmare, a record I enjoy muchly and one which understood that ubiquitous technicality calls for a huge infusion of smart melodicism to make it memorable and worth hearing time and again. Unfortunately, Obsolete don’t have the melodic sensibilities of Arsis, and so the music is wont to come across as just…there sometimes. “Old Horizon” is one such song, as I’ve got no idea what’s trying to be done here besides making a saliently less heavy and more thrash-based Atheist song. It’s just not heavy or impactful enough, and this pervades tracks like “Callousness of Soul” too, as I’m unsure of what the verse is trying to accomplish with noodling, blasts, and shouts all vying for attention, getting it, and promptly losing it again when each goes nowhere and says nothing. Moments like these abound, making every listen of Animate//Isolate leave me only relatively contented and mildly entertained.

For every riff and moment I like on Animate//Isolate, there’s at least two that say nothing beyond “Obsolete sure can play” which make me check out and lose interest. Obsolete just isn’t heavy enough in the same way Brain Drill isn’t heavy enough – the music sacrifices kinetic, emotional, or energetic impact for sheer technicality. This was an interesting enough idea conceptually, and Obsolete are commendably creative, but unfortunately there’s too much here that just passes by without any lasting impression. Animate//Isolate connects in an “academic” way with impressive performances all around but it doesn’t connect on a visceral level, winning the mind but not the heart.

Rating: 2.5/5.0
DR: 8 | Format Reviewed: 256 kbps mp3
Label: Unspeakable Axe Records
Website: obsoleteband.bandcamp.com
Releases Worldwide: April 19th, 2021

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