While exploring Mudness, the curiously titled debut LP from Italian genre-benders Obsolete Theory, I thought of a lot of bands — and we’ll get to those comparisons in a moment — but more than sonic neighbors, I kept thinking about Alex Garland’s recent sci-fi/horror masterpiece, Annihilation. I found similarities not in terms of its soundtrack (although Annihilation does have a great fucking soundtrack), but rather in atmosphere and theme. Garland’s film is a grim, gorgeous examination of evolution at its most alien and unhinged; similarly, Mudness’ unpredictable, effortless genre-hopping skills, paired with its downplayed aggression in favor of a creeping sense of dread, feels unique and otherworldly. Repetition and production foibles somewhat spoil the pot, but the final product is captivating and memorable enough that it’s easily more than the sum of its parts.
Mudness, comprised of five tracks of blackened doom/death averaging ten minutes apiece, feels massive, yet Obsolete Theory‘s tendency to reign in their aggression levels makes each composition feel refreshingly nuanced. Opener “Salmodia III” in particular is a captivating exercise in patience rarely encountered in Italian metal; methodical chugs trudge steadfast towards a gorgeous section of Saturnus-esque doom/death, which in turn explodes into a cathartic release of quick, atmospheric black metal. This flow is executed so naturally as to never feel forced, and the seemingly disparate genres coexist as though they were never meant to exist separately. Nearly every track exhibits a similarly fluid approach to stylistic splicing, and somehow, every experimental excursion attempted on Mudness just works. Suffice it to say, I’ve never heard anything quite like this.
While Mudness initially sounded like a potential Record o’ the Month contender for the first couple of spins, the waters became mudd(n)ied soon after, though certainly not to a damning extent. Intent listening sessions reveal that some of Obsolete Theory’s compositions are more than a little bloated; riffs will repeat ad nauseum for minutes on end, which often seems fruitless despite evolving background contexts, and I can’t help but think that an album constructed from a greater number of tracks, each being five or six minutes apiece, would have worked far better in the band’s favor. The lengthy pieces reveal some curiously meandering lead guitar work; though the lead melodies seemingly attempt to capture the feel of classic doom/death melancholy, many feel devoid of dramatic weight, moving aimlessly from note to note. Perhaps this was an intentional move designed to carve out a new melodic niche, but if so, it doesn’t really work.
What Obsolete Theory lacks in songwriting tact, they make up for in spades with an atmosphere so thick and oppressive that I feel like I need a machete to make it through to Mudness’ conclusion. This is largely due to the astonishingly diverse vocal work on display; from melancholic, crooning cleans to blackened rasps and unsettling gothic horror whispers, singer Daevil supersedes his cringe-worthy alias as a gripping vocal force. Mudness isn’t wholly defined by its atmosphere, though, as its most instrumentally bombastic moments are some of its best. Of particular note is “Six Horses of Death,” an instantly grabbing piece of death metal that mashes up the brainy grooves of Opeth with the melodic brawn of Amon Amarth. Regardless of whether Obsolete Theory is engaging in brooding mood or pounding riffage, however, the production is universally poor; the buried drum presence obscures the brilliant, primal performances of Sa’ Vaanth, and the tones, in general, are murky, never delivering the desired dramatic punch. I do appreciate the slightly obscured vocals, though, as it enhances the undercurrent of cosmic mystery.
Mudness’ flaws wound me. There are a lot of bands right now trying to carve out a niche with some conglomeration of death, black, and doom metal, and though Obsolete Theory has committed an unfortunate share of editing sins, they unquestionably stand out from the throng. AMG’s review policy — where the reviewer of a given album has first dibs on the next effort of the band in question — makes me excited for the opportunity to bogart Mudness’ follow-up in what is hopefully only a few years, as I’m already a strong believer in this band’s future. Despite the relatively low score, I encourage fellow fans of unique extreme metal concoctions to hop on the bandwagon.
DR: 6 | Format Reviewed: 256 kbps mp3
Label: My Kingdom Music Official | Bandcamp
Websites: obsoletetheoryband.bandcamp.com | facebook.com/obsoletetheory.official
Releases Worldwide: June 15th, 2018