Obliteration – Black Death Horizon

cover

Label: Relapse Records (US)/ Indie Recordings (EU)

Stream: via Noisey

There were times during listens to this album when I had to double-check it was released in 2013 – and that’s meant as a compliment. It’s easy to feel that much of what passes for death metal today has forgotten about where the genre came from in the 80s, and that it instead means ever-increasing technical proficiency, vocals that are getting lower and lower, and abandoning concepts like “riffs” and “song-writing” in favour of show-boating. Cool arpeggio sweeps, bro. Too bad I can’t remember how the song sounded once you were done – or was it just a collection of breakdowns and technical wankery?

Obliteration are guilty of absolutely none of the above. What they have created instead is an album that reminds the listener of just why 80s death metal was so great, and that there’s absolutely nothing wrong with continuing to play in that style. It feels very appropriate that Relapse are releasing this in the US. Why reinvent the wheel if the original form was so perfect? Which in itself begs the question: why bother with such retro-minded bands if classics like Mental Autopsy are always just a listen away? To which the answer is the album itself. There’s nothing really original here, but what there is instead is 42 minutes of 80s style death metal with a few modern updates that is worthy of any fans time.

It gets started in ominous enough fashion. The Distant Sun kicks off with 3 and a half minutes of building tension, heavy with atmosphere and dread, over which proclamations of doom ring out with some truly desperate vocals. It sets the tone perfectly, bringing to mind images of death, doom, and well, obliteration. This is death metal for a world of death. And after the pace is picked up and the band blaze ahead, it should be clear that if you’re in to this style then you’re in for a treat, and if not then the exit is over there. It’s your loss.

The album is not the bone-headed, one-dimensional headbang-athon that titles like “Goat Skull Crown” and “Churning Magma” might suggest. In amongst all the traditional death metal brutality there’s some truly great moments of tension and release, and the band demonstrate some great song-writing skills as well as enough talent to make this style their own. Witness the mid-tempo section just over one minute in to the aforementioned Goat Skull Crown (which, let’s face it, is a fucking great name for a death metal song), or the mock-operatic vocals two minutes in to the same song. And that’s to say nothing of the blistering solo a minute later. The bass drums playing triplet notes during Transient Passage are especially unsettling. Each song has enough shifts and changes to keep things interesting and fresh on the whole, and though there is the odd moment of over-familiarity – especially with the intros – it’s more down to an adherence to the style they play than the band running out of ideas. There’s occasional moments of deviation from a wholly death metal template, such as the almost black metal tremolo-picking on some songs, and there’s plenty of moments that remind you of the original link between death and thrash metal, but there’s no mistaking what the band play.

A further point worthy of praise is the vocals. They sound truly unhinged throughout the entire album, bringing to mind the dabbler in the occult who knows too much, or the last, broken-minded witness of some atrocity. They’re not your typical death metal grunts, and the album is stronger for it.

At 42 minutes, the album is just the right length to hold attention, and though it certainly beats the listener over the head with its death metal attack, it doesn’t insist on over-staying its welcome or completely beating the listener to a pulp. It’s not flashy, and it’s not the most original metal album you’ll hear this year – or possibly even this week – but nor is it intended to be. What it is is utterly brutal (but not br00tal, you dig?) and primitive, yet also enjoyable in a way that only 80s-style death metal can be. If you’re in to this sort of thing then it’ll have you headbanging long in to the night. If not? I don’t know what to say. I mean, you do like death metal, right? Right? Oh.

Rating: 8/10

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