Death metal has a lot to contend with in 2020. Nothing’s shocking and an approximation of three decade old riffs might start to sound a bit played out once you’ve lost your job, lost the ability to publically gather, witnessed mass plague deaths, and hell… throw in a week of shocking coward-assed police brutality nationwide in the midst of a (now openly) corrupt government ready to militarize the streets and damn… The surreal brutality of today pulverizes the thrill of ‘old school’ gore and cosmic horror real quick. Hold on, lest we forget the history we are repeating once again, back in 1993 it’d been the year of Waco, Texas and the World Trade Center bombing, not to mention it’d been the year the Rodney King beatings would finally produce a trial. Times of great tragedy, rage, and civic unrest then-and-now offer the finest and most appropriate headspace to confront one’s demons via estranged and violent art; For the overwhelmed there is no more appropriate cathartic-yet-empowering arena than the space provided by an extreme metal voice and it goes without saying that Indiana-based death metal quintet Obscene feature their own very distinctly scoured and enraged howl front and center. Incensed and isolated in their Midwest death metal coffin these Indianapolis-area fellows have been incredibly patient in developing and now finally reaching the goal of release for this stellarly outlier of a howling, deeply carved debut, ‘The Inhabitable Dark’.
Formed in 2016 between musicians relevant to Demiricous, Summon the Destroyer and the final reformations of Acheron, these fellowes were already well-seasoned by their small but intense scene these last couple of decades, finding a driven point of focus together while patiently developing their own thing. When emphasizing the performance of Obscene‘s somewhat sleepily paced first demo tape (‘Sermon to the Snake‘, 2017), which’d been self-released then issued through Blood Harvest in 2018, the intensity of attack was yet a step beyond the output from their days as Blood Chasm. Although the demo would do very little for me at the time there was some great potential fashioned within the more unique aspects of Obscene‘s sound. Hardcorish and nigh shrieked vocals alongside some hints of ‘The Rack’ and ‘Nothing But Death Remains‘-era Edge of Sanity styled death would prove enough to hold my ear while it took roughly two years for ‘The Inhabitable Dark’ to surface. Getting a chance to see where they’d gone in the year beyond that first tape offered some redemption, a glimpse of where they’ve been and where they’ll go, and a grand chunk of what’ll surely be a triumph for ‘old school’ death metal devout alongside anyone seeking projects that aren’t of the norm but also never ridiculously weird for the sake of it.
Landing somewhere in the midst of Tomas Lindberg‘s snarl and diction on ‘Red in the Sky is Ours’ and Horrendous‘ throat-cracking beyond ‘Ecdysis’, Kyle Shaw‘s voice is the first and most noticeable trait available to parse as an upfront and divergent death metal vocal. Some of the actual cadence of early At the Gates applies here although that might be by proxy of the somewhat ‘orthodox’ death metal expressed throughout, which touches upon everything from Demigod‘s highest speed rhythms to pre-‘Transcend the Rubicon’ Benediction as well as early Obituary when considering the full dynamic of the album. None of these comparisons stray too far from early Florida death metal influence though I would extend up the east coast United States a bit to include the earlier death-thrash of the New York and New Jersey area in the early 90’s.
Despite a short list of very specific and distinct influences driving their make, these are not plainly patched together riff exercises driving Obscene‘s debut album — Or, at least it’d seem that most riffs were writ and crafted with some narrative intent. Certain pieces are ‘classic’ death metal in structure (see: “All Innocence Burns Here”, “This is He Who Kills”) while still managing some considerable voice via the guitar parts. This closer examination of each guitar part eventually had me setting ‘The Inhabitable Dark’ alongside Viogression‘s debut in my mind, although Obscene are probably more consistent with the quality of their takes on this record. “Without Honor and Humanity” is the first out of the cannon with a fast and fire-blasted shot of riveting death metal attack and because it is delivered with such energy most folks will know exactly what they’re getting into in terms of Shaw‘s vocals and the riffs adjacent well before the song is half over. “Bless the Giver of Oblivion” introduces some mid-to-slow paced lunges into their attack, and to great effect — This’d be the finest track to introduce the range and vibrancy that Obscene bring beyond the norm, though I’d say the strongest song overall for my taste goes to “All Innocence Burns Here”, as it’d stick with me after each spin without fail. Side A finishes off strong yet I’d found myself wanting more vocal variation by the time I’d hit the end of “They Delight in Extinction” and unfortunately Side B begins with “Black Hole of Calcutta”, perhaps the only irritating point of diction on the record. Beyond that point each song bears increasingly elaborate structure or, some manner of shift in dynamic motion such as the dramatic build that pushes title track into its slow, brooding scream n’ chunk verses.
33 minutes is merciful enough a length for such a straightforward and oft abrasive death metal record. It being packed with ambitious but never too-far reaching pieces and plenty enough riff will undoubtedly keep the ‘old school’ heads engaged. Deeper attention paid to rhythms suggests both gymnastic and percussive sensibility shared amongst the two guitarists who may capitalize most of the ear’s attention but, the rhythm section is well above average, enough that you’ll have engaged with the incredible thug-heavy bass guitar presence and echoing mid-center drum station several times whilst admiring the sound design of ‘The Inhabitable Dark’. Despite their gnarly rasp, strong pacing and penchant for barreling heavy pieces there were no major standout tracks as I spun Obscene‘s debut over and over, indicating it is the sort of death metal record that’d sink in slow and charm over time. Side B tended to be more texturally interesting to me with its slight push towards more complex rhythms but this shift is subtle enough that the full listen is consistent and hammered out as a key characteristic. That said, I’m not all that conflicted on this one as I feel it is a vital weirdo, an important presence amongst the straight-up ‘old school’ death metal crowd in the greater United States and just a fine easily spun half hour death metal record deserving of a high recommendation.
High recommendation. 4.0/5.0
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