What blunt needle sews the twine of reality and the conscious fabric of being, the ego, acts as a punctuation for the naturally disinclined self. However long it takes primates to glimpse or fully achieve the ‘ego-death’, be it lifetime of Buddhist focus or an ill-concieved teenage psychedelic trip, there exists no more sought after respite for the naturally empathetic and anxietous ape. Leary saw the use of psychedelics from a shamanic point of view as pointed medicine, a venomous transcendence that could be guided and beneficial. Stanislav Grof‘s research approached their use as a means to study the relationship between the numbing effects of a ‘near death experience’ and memories of birth, a linking of perceived traumas in relation to the out of body, out of mind effects of psychedelic substances. The annihilation of the established and merely perceived ‘self’ within the arc of LSD consumption is inevitably linked with death; The ‘fear’ felt is merely uncontrollable separation anxiety triggered by the scared puppy that is the subconscious and with some meditative control of the mind’s conscious path it is possible for this anxious fear of the death of the self to subside. At some point the mind is lost, the subject becoming a whirling sorcerer of hallucinations that slowly loses all sense of ego. By accident or through traditions passed on since the mid-80’s the creation of death themed music has been inspired by those who see the cliffs of psychedelic mindloss, a drug-induced psychosis, and resist the plunge. What spectacle the fantastic lineage that trails behind this golden age of ‘psychic death’ metal of the detached self represents! Who better represents these psychoses than Kolbotn, Norway extremists Obliteration?
Obsession with old school thrash and speed metal inevitably creates curiosity for extremism with some inspirational pressure from the adventurous spirit of sub-genre crossovers in the late 80’s. This is where induction into the blood-soaked plains of Autopsy becomes a great thunderous curse upon the mind of the metal head. From punk-rotted death to the doom-crusted psychotropic violence ‘Mental Funeral’ acts as the blueprint for the madness of many of the most popular ‘new age’ of old school death metal today; Yet the true first strike of (readily visible) otherworldly death came to many in the form of Darkthrone‘s ‘Soulside Journey’, a technical masterpiece of atmosphere and riff. Though they’d been recognized by Fenriz himself through his short-lived Peaceville Records imprint Tyrant Syndicate in releasing ‘Perpetual Decay’ (2007), Obliteration wouldn’t settle upon a truly unique sound until ‘Nekrospalms’ (2009). Greater doom and a darker blackened sense of atmospheric freedom made it a classic of the late 2000’s and a marked change from the Morbid Angel and Pestilence-esque normalcy of their previous material. The lineage building up to the creation of a song like “Catacombs of Horror” run deep and thrill the mind from Hellhammer to Cadaver and beyond. This hallucinogenic style has persisted in the decade since, though marked with the charcoal coughing spirit of black metal further blurs the angular tendencies of their compositions.
In the midst of this activity a greater lens was applied to Norwegian underground death metal innovation previously overlooked. The discovery of equally impressive projects such as Diskord and Execration along with a few ‘burn once and destroy’ psychedelic death metal bands from all over Scandinavia can be viewed as an unofficial movement that has since sent ripples of influence the world over. Obliteration exist with a different reputation, though; As avant-garde as their approach to death metal appears they are nonetheless products of the classic black/thrash metal scene within the Oslo area of Norway. Several members are involved in black/thrashers Nekromantheon as well as the more recent formation of speed metal band Black Viper but even more impressive are various member’s stints as live stand-ins for some of Norway’s great underground heroes like Aura Noir and Furze. As such ‘Black Death Horizon’ (2013) appeared no less informed by the thrust of Autopsy-esque death metal (see: Morbus Chron ‘Sleeper in the Rift’) but the creeping darkness of black-thrashing tremolo-picked leads and wobbling riffs appeared as a band possessed by greater bounding doom and unholy darkness beyond the seemingly pedestrian comparative North American death metal classics.
Then came silence. A five year wait followed by a sudden announcement allowed for the death and erasure of hype or unrealistic expectations. ‘Black Death Horizon’ was such a satisfying record that the only real supposition, or requirement for success, was that the previously established thread of consistency would be upheld. To be fair the first several listens of ‘Cenotaph Obscure’ took me nowhere but where I’d already been because Obliteration‘s back catalog existed as fragment of my imagination after five years. It was entirely necessary to revisit their discography to understand how they’d arrived upon this fourth album. The goal appears to have been a development of the obscure, the raw materials of Obliteration‘s compositional refinement hiss and burst as the ego-detached spirit is levitated to the edge of death’s atmosphere and purified by the psychosis of the black sun’s flame. Where doom and thrash informed the structure of major riff extensions and transitional pieces of the past, now their influence provides attack and impact to fuel a more holistically achieved dynamic form of death metal. The hints of urgent, ear-popping blackened lead guitars now appear in tandem, and alternation, with the rousing atmospheric trill-and-clang intensity typically demanded from the finer avant-garde black metal works. This rush of blood finds Obliteration staggering under the weight of their own urgency and the organic feeling of Martin Ehrencrona‘s (Cobra Studios, Stockholm) recording emphasizes the absolute flogging that the band provide while still balancing the psychoactive nature of their sound.
The point of true induction came around the fifth full listen and after I’d revisited the bands first three records. So rarely do I not trust a first impression in gauging an album with honest thoughts but with ‘Black Death Horizon’ I’d made the mistake of passing it by and loving it three months later. This time I let Obliteration sink in until the noise of comparison and hype allowed some objective analysis. Without a doubt the sound and style of ‘Cenotaph Obscure’ arrive upon a certain unholy perfection where the ugliness of old school death, the sword flailing specter of blackened thrash metal, and the beauty of avant-psychotropic atmospherics are conjoined. There existed such scant remedy for the illusory waft and seeming prog-rock/death apex of pre-split Morbus Chron before 2018 and now the then untamed classic finds greater peer in records like ‘Cenotaph Obscure’. Of course the attack is everything and despite all of my musings over psychedelia inherent to death metal’s history Obliteration are first and foremost a classic death metal being that is most aggressive and doubly blackened since 2013. It turns out that this record is less of a refinement and more a transcendent entity achieved through the control of greater psychosis.
‘Cenotaph Obscure’ does not merely recreate hallucinatory death music instead it showcases the group’s collective ability to shape increasingly elastic threads of riff and rhythm into exciting and abstract forms without losing core identity. The peaking dose achieved between “Eldritch Summoning” and “Detestation Rites” appears as burst capillary and painfully dilated irises that cause the jaw to clench and the skin to boil in the mirror, these are the golden green moments you’ll remember most as the effects wear off; I’d recommend them in preview of the album. As a follow up or as a greatest realization of Obliteration‘s sound concept ‘Cenotaph Obscure’ is impressive in most every aspect as it represents exactly my own personal taste in death metal in moving beyond obsession with the old classics. There exists no damned flaw in the experience, the flow of the album is beautifully repeatable, the sound is immaculately achieved and the songs are entirely memorable. Highest recommendation.
Inexhaustible charnel dominion. 5.0/5.0
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