We riding this OSDM train to the last fuckin’ station, fam. I’ve been listening to death metal for the past 48 hours straight it seems, so much so that Spotify is offering me up a Dinner With Friends playlist like it knows I’ve lied catatonic engulfed in a maelstrom of blastbeats and growling and that it really hopes I’m doing okay.
Obliteration is a Norwegian death metal band that’s been around for a hot minute, forming in 2001 and having four full lengths to their name. Cenotaph Obscure, their fourth album is the first I’ve heard of them since it seemed to climb the ranks of many peoples’ lists of the top albums of 2018. Now, we’ve already established that playing good, old fashioned death metal is fine as long as you’re ahead of the curve in some way. Necrot brought the riffs like nobody else, and Depravity were gut bustingly heavy enough to release albums that stood out among the enormous swathes of average, boring, and played out death metal albums that have been cropping up for literal decades now. Obliteration seems to have garnered praise for their fusing of traditional OSDM and the niche skronks and atmosphere of sci-fi leaning bands like Timeghoul (maybe the best band name ever) and Demilich (still awful, fight me), as well as their incorporation of black metal speed and tremolo picked riffs. Sounds like quite a cocktail, but I cannot stress how much of a dummy I am, so let’s see how these Norwegians stack up to these ears.
Cenotaph Obscure opens up promising enough, with booming drums and Behemoth-esque guitar leads that slide around the neck before kicking into some proper blasting and tremolo riffage. The title track bashes your head in before slowing down to a grinding, doomy bridge that in my opinion ends way too quickly. All in all, a pretty fun blackened romp and a great way to kick off an album. The second track “Tumulus of Ancient Bones” is where Obliteration stretches some of their songwriting chops. Some more challenging mid tempo guitar work makes up the main riff while the drums lurch through some odd time signatures and interesting rhythms. Some dissonance begins taking a hold of the song which alongside the unpredictable rhythm section really drives home the sci-fi tech-death influences on display here. For the most part, “Tumulus” is just an old school banger with some interesting flavour baked in.
Now, having shown us eleven minutes of pretty standard (and thoroughly enjoyable) old school vibes, Cenotaph Obscure seems to begin in proper with the interlude track “Orb” leading into the over 8 minute long “Eldritch Summoning”. I understand the idea of showing a broader spectrum of sounds and ideas as the album progresses, but between the opener and “Tumulus”, I already had a pretty established idea of what Obliteration sounded like. While the third track onward still sounds like Obliteration, the difference in that aforementioned flavour is enough to be a bit jarring once “Orb” and “Eldritch Summoning” get into full swing.
Waves of arpeggiated guitars crash against the listener before some more dissonance tightens its grip on the nimble fretwork. There are definitely some interesting ideas presented in this tune, but unfortunately the run time leaves me feeling more exhausted by the end of it than excited to hear more. We’re only four tracks, (only three of which are proper songs) into this forty minute album, and the fact that the beginning and end of “Eldritch Summoning”, despite rolling through dozens of riffs, feels like it hasn’t progressed anywhere has me feeling it now, Mr. Krabs. Unfortunately, this is where I think this album as a whole falters.
Parts > Sum
Obliteration showcases some really interesting creative songwriting on Cenotaph Obscure. Not only do they nail the crusty, putrid OSDM sound when they want to, but their ability to almost seamlessly dance through tricky time signatures and rhythms is clearly indicative of the mastery everyone here has over their instruments. Unfortunately, I think Obliteration excel on a micro level, bringing small moments or transitions that catch you off guard and pull you in further into the album. The opening riff to the closing song “Charnel Plains” is absolutely killer, and some of the spacier dissonance presented is truly transporting and otherworldly. On a macro level, they don’t quite work for me. The soft restart the album has at “Orb” kills a bit of momentum that the first two tracks built up and the seven and eight minute tunes that make up the next three quarters of the album each feel like they drag on longer than they need to.
While I’ve reconciled how most death metal is inherently samey and that’s okay, the litmus test I have for albums that subscribe to this method are by how many memorable moments the album can provide me. In a thirty to forty minute onslaught of aggressive noise, there’s got to be something for me to latch on to or else it’ll just become background noise to me. And sure, there’s that whole micro vs macro crapola I spewed about earlier, but everything that caught my attention in the album was washed away far oo quickly with more of the same skonkiness and psychedelic dissonance. I know that sometimes being tedious and challenging can be the point of an album or work of art, but I like a little Sam Raimi mixed in with my Andrei Tarkovsky. You can definitely say that these Norwegians are releasing something different from the usual death metal crowd, and that in itself I have to respect and call noteworthy. But being different doesn’t automatically make it good.
Ultimately, Obliteration have piqued my interest in their career. I’m not a big fan of Cenotaph Obscure, but within its dense, dissonant death metal is perhaps a band that I would eventually like to listen to. I feel that my tastes sit adjacent to this album and given some time, maybe I’ll warm up to this corner of the extreme music earth. Until then, I doubt Cenotaph Obscure will get any more spins from me.