OBSECRATION – Onwards the Mystic Paths of the Dead (2020)REVIEW

Over the land there lies a long shadow… — If we must pass through the tunneled mountainous depths of the past and forget the urge to shriek at every skeleton crushed beneath axe and stone, then the way forward is either a cursed beast’s lair or passage to some rarely touched place. Stilling the urge to assume what might be around each new corner of life’s oft linear corridor means confronting auld assumptions made about long-standing bands and I’m surely guilty of seeing Athens, Greece-built death metal trio Obsecration as a project that’d lost sight of the ‘old school’ ways in the late 2000’s without ever doing any of my own proper research into their reality. Today we can remedy those pre-concieved ideas and celebrate the spirited return of the band, ‘Onwards the Mystic Paths of the Dead’; It is an event that comes after a seventh year of silence to uncouple the seventh seal of their discography — An album as classically attuned as their mid-90’s debut (‘The Inheritors of Pain‘, 1996) that is not only graced with lyrics writ as early as 1986 but riffed and blasted via spiritus of true death’s expanse into the unknown from ’86-’93.

Reaching the thirty year mark with a death metal project and looking back upon each era can be daunting but less so when considering certain spans of songwriters, decades of influence, and the important contributions of certain guitarists and drummers along the way. In the case of Obsecration this is more difficult because exit/entrance hasn’t been mass exodus or giant dramatic splits that might indicate Mark I, II, III etc. status; What can be considered certain is the formative years of the project between 1989-1993 wherein the Athens extreme metal scene was really just in the midst of its experimental evolution and a set of thrashers involved in obscure bands such as Epidemic, Asfyx, and Blood Covered would either arrive in 1991 and leave by 1993 some of whom stuck around for the band’s classic first EP (‘Oblivious…‘, 1993) which any fan of 90’s Greek extreme metal will recognize as bearing that mystic, murky sound due to true underground resourcefulness making it possible. Once you’ve got the main guitar progression from “Re-creative Incitement” you’ll hear the love for German thrash reinterpreted to meet the extreme sonic standards of the time. That sound was an important step for the band as it’d define the identity of the band for their first few albums — Death metal with a thrashing heart and some blackened edges that would eventually feature some very prominent keyboard work.

‘Onwards the Mystic Paths of the Dead’ does not come from the songwriters that put together ‘Oblivious…’ and ‘The Inheritors of Pain’ as those fellows had all left the band around the release of Obsecration‘s second album (‘Oceanum Oblivione‘, 2000) and the main constant from there would be vocalist/lyricist C. Dead V. who would recruit members of Soulskinner, Intro Uterine Cannibalism, and Desolation along the way, most of whom would exit by 2015. So, consider 2000-2015 as a Mark III of sorts and 1993-2000 a Mark II. This is just for the sake of simplifying this most active 2000’s period which would see the band moving in an atypical black/death metal direction that’d often feature fairly stark keyboard work a la Nocturnus without being completely ‘symphonic’ in nature. The peak beyond the band’s third album (‘Sins of the Flesh‘, 2002) was probably ‘Into the Bloodemonium’ (2013) an album that was essentially the most extreme thought applied to the bones of ‘The Inheritors of Pain’, long introductions a la ‘Testimony of the Ancients’ with fairly heavy use of keyboards and pretty straight-forward death metal guitar work. In hindsight I’d been correct in assuming I wouldn’t necessarily ‘get’ where Obsecration had gone beyond their second album but each record comes into some earnestly good ideas, some pushing into Rotting Christ territory whereas others offering an unusual amalgam of modern and ‘old school’ ideas with a do-it-yourself spirit making things possible.

This new album comes from taking a look back towards the earliest origins of the band circa ’89-’93 and stripping away the keyboards for a more pure death/thrash metal sound which drummer & guitarist Ungod (Necrohell, Slaughtered Priest, Metal Throne Productions) has written with the classics of death/thrash metal in mind. So, don’t expect to pick it up and get ‘The Inheritors of Pain’ Part II, in most respects that was ‘Oceanum Oblivione’ which is still a great album but this is probably more thrash metal in spirit than anything from the band since even their earliest demos where the members were still meeting the demands of playing faster and more brutal extreme thrash-borne music. I value provenance and history a great deal when approaching a long-standing band that’ve remained an underground fixture for so long, not because of the social currency it creates but because this sort of dedication can only be for the love of the music and never trends, money, or any other stupid bullshit. This manifests within ‘Onwards the Mystic Paths of the Dead’ in a few ways but the most profound came with realizing they’d indicated the dates which certain lyrics were written, pulling from books scribed as early as ’86-’87 (“Chaotic Threat”, “When the Sky Turns Dark”) but largely from 1989-1990 when the original band had been gone under a few other names (Morbid Illusion, Curse). This is both endearing and perhaps meant as a nod to the old ways, not simply imitating them but fully recalling and resurrecting thoughts/feelings from over three decades ago.

Sitting with ‘Onwards the Mystic Paths of the Dead’ is like reminiscing with the ghost of a loved one, a spiritual congress with an old and dead form that still holds great power over me — It isn’t valuable for nostalgia alone but for what unholy strength it renders using the auld language of classic 80’s death and extreme thrash metal. Kreator is a big part of this meditation (see: “Shadows…”) but also hints of Florida’s earlier death metal attack (Amon, Malevolent Creation), some pre-‘Arise’ Sepultura-esque movements, and the natural evolution of those forms found in early 90’s records from Massacra and Ripping Corpse (among others). Sure, the album goes a bit deeper than that and has a voice of its own (see: “Beyond the Nightmarish Passage at the Skeletons’ Valley”) but fans of classic thrash-infested pure death metal from the ’89-’93 era will understand the geist represented and the riff-language of it all immediately. The most important characteristic that resolves as a genuine, repeatable article is yet difficult to describe: The classic thrash metal “tunnel vision”, a phenomenon meant to describe the level of immersion experienced when a guitarist not only impresses with with their level of riffcraft but presents a world that you’ll fall into a deep trance as it expresses. Some old schoolers capable of this are still standing, such as Vader or Opprobrium, but to pull it off and yet make it fit quite well into Obsecration‘s history is an impressive feat.

If there is a chance you don’t see the connection to Obsecration‘s past, I’d say go back to the reissues of ‘The Inheritors of Pain’, sit with the first EP and the remastered demos or the ‘Morbid Recollections’ compilation from last year and I think the pieces will all fall into place a bit better. I think Ungod has done a fine job of orchestrating an experience that represents the old ways in general as well as tying his own style into the early history and intent of Obsecration. The lyrics help to top off that sense of classic raw and ripping death metal born from a love of evil thrash and progenitor acts. I’d almost begin to suggest this is my favorite record from the band to date, even if their first EP and LP are something special for that time and place as death metal amongst a scene that’d become psychically dominated by black metal throughout the 90’s. Above all else ‘Onwards the Mystic Paths of the Dead’ is a fantastic riff record with the right mindset and notion of what it represents, I’m not into it just for the zeitgeist but for the riffs and in that sense Obsecration delivers a true slasher that holds up tremendously well to frequent spins as a highly repeatable, cutting death record. A very high recommendation.

Rating: 8.5 out of 10.
TITLE:Onwards the Mystic Paths of the Dead
LABEL(S):Witching Hour Productions
RELEASE DATE:August 7th, 2020
BUY & LISTEN:Bandcamp [All Formats]
GENRE(S):Death Metal,
Death/Thrash Metal

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