OBSOLETE – Animate // Isolate (2021)REVIEW

The warning cry came from an outer guard and black shadows were suddenly sweeping out of the dark dawn. They were things that might have been half wolf, half tiger; each of them three hundred pounds of incredible ferocity with eyes blazing like yellow fire in their white-fanged tiger-wolf faces. They came like the wind, in a flowing black wave, and ripped through the outer guard line as though it had not existed.” Tom Godwin, The Survivors *

Fixed in place and steeped in one’s own resonance, “being” is captivity enough for those of us seeking the ecstatic ripping-and-tearing energy that life still verifiably has to offer amongst the several generations deep zombification of the first world. Eldest sparks yet sustain their musical and philosophical lineage(s) which, when picked up and left with their natural patina, ensure influence persists within what energetically crystallized tutelage classic forms might offer. What “new” work lands in lap must at least carry the scent of pre-anthropocene isolation, of elitism far from the current trending normative ideal or alternately, reek of pit sweat and hard work in forging something that adds itself with vitality to an auld high standard. Minneapolis, Minnesota area technical death/thrash metal quartet Obsolete present the results of their first several years of classicist study and nouveau idiom in practice, aiming to capture the cerebral drip of early progressive death metal and its gem-like concurrence with peaking thrash metal on ‘Animate // Isolate‘ yet working their own magic on this ‘ready timeless ethos; By skill and intuition alike they’ve avoided rote results in presentation of spirited work that feigns no ‘retro’ naivete, embracing the advanced state of performance and composition beyond the peak of the early nineties and the excess of the aughts.

Twin Cities area locals will recognize some of these folks from their time in Australis, Lungs and technical/avant-death metal fiends might recognize guitarist/vocalist Lucas Scott from Sunless, yet Obsolete offer style and sound evolved from an entirely different lineage of progressive death metal that stretches deep as possible into the past. ‘Animate // Isolate’ forges a path that purposefully pushes limits of structural feats founded within technical thrash metal at its creative peak in the late 80’s wherein the rhythmic prowess and inverted worldview on offer would inform the earliest notions of progressive/technical death metal. This specific prog-metallic ideology traces most clearly back to Cynic‘s ‘Human’-adjacent demo tape from 1991 but had certainly evolved concurrent with equally major contributions to speed, intricacy, and form from Hellwitch, Sadus and Atheist.

Although we could feasibly argue that the style Obsolete leads with stems from sacral knowledge and technique gleaned from 1984-1992 in terms of developing their own sophisticated technical death/thrash metal standard, we’ll have to include additional technique from the innovations founded in ‘Outer Isolation’-era Vektor as well as the stellarly standards of modern technical death metal performances to some small degree — Again, these guys are not a “retro” cherry-picking act; ‘Animate // Isolate’ certainly has its own voice which comes with some sense of modern urgency, thrash that pushes a hard angular cut to a point that shares equal appeal between fans of say, Cryptic Shift yet still meets the Revocation side of things halfway. The heart of the album is yet driven by some serious love for the thrash metal spectrum of early Cynic and of course I found this aspect (or, reference) brilliant because I live for that style of music (see: Thrash ’til Death features & An Exhaustive Study: Technical Thrash Metal, etc.) that is to say that what Obsolete have done here on their debut album is golden as a reasonable balance of ‘old school’ tech-death/thrash and modern tech-thrash.

Of course some of the appeal and sustained interest in technical thrash metal alignment is this sense that the microcosmic nature of high-speed and heavily intricate rhythm guitar statements lends itself well to a state of combined awe and initial engagement via analysis. What appears as a tuneful hurl of puzzle pieces to start eventually arranges into fragmentary style points as a first point of observation and this can conflate the importance of songwriting with style in mind to start, rather than see ‘Animate // Isolate’ as a riff album I’d rather suggest that it be appreciated for its songcraft and sense of rhythmic movement, which is exploratory without relying on a frequent state of implied atmospheric expanse which we find so often in modern ‘sci fi’ thrash metal adherents. Instead the compressed and machine-like aggression of Obsolete can be appreciated as musical yet extreme, composed for both micro-states of expression in the moment and the macro-state rhythmic movements in view of the bigger picture. When viewed from the highest possible angle we see less a snarling pit of thrashing beasts and instead songs that are cut as beautifully as some of the more thrusting-forth movements on ‘Individual Thought Patterns’.

The issue with unveiling these moments with any sensical application is that they’ve packed all 36 minutes of ‘Animate // Isolate’ with wall-to-wall riffing with too many details to meaningfully parse beyond highlight of a sweet spot shared between classic brutal thrash, modern tech-thrash, and the odd late-to-the-party mid-90’s European prog-death albums that’d had little more than ‘Piece of Time’ (or thereabouts) for inspiration, anything from Sceptic‘s ‘Blind Existence’ to the equally underrated duo of records from Chemical Breath. “The Atrophy of Will” briefly touches upon the right hand technique of ‘Leprosy’ but leads with an almost neoclassical edge for its major statement, giving way naturally to the shred components “The Slough” leads with; This piece in particular showcases the tension inherent to the guitar compositions though they are not without elasticity, groove is a major component of ‘Animate // Isolate’ and its longevity as a full spin. “Silent Freeway” is the prime example of groove that matches the intensity and complexity of the greater experience, modern lead guitar hits keep things active in narrative but the song itself has a bit of a ’93 Obliveon-esque verve to it, a pensive looseness that I particularly enjoyed. The only deep cut moment I’d felt like they could’ve really expanded upon was at the ~0:25 second mark on “Callousness of Soul”, although brief this moment alters the mood of the entire piece and it’d stood out to me because it felt like a glimpse of where Obsolete might find their own characteristic atmospheric values in the future. The bass performances on the slower sections of “Stumbling and Listless” were likewise a worthwhile point of expansion going forward.

“Intercostal” is the right piece to come full circle with, a prime example of all that these folks are piecing together on their debut, hammering away with ‘Human’-esque energy while keeping the darting laser of the guitar performances engaging. The balance of needled-out technical thrash metal ideals, classic death metal groove and relatively non-stop intensity doesn’t necessarily include any dropped shoulders or major point of respite yet the 36 minute length of ‘Animate // Isolate’ is just right for this modus. Immersive and relatively lax listening versus edge-of-my-seat analytical thought yielded different results on my part and this boiled down to the awe of the rhythmic assault and swinging death-thrash shapes presented therein versus the accomplished lead work that cuts finer lines and suggests those shapes are more sophisticated when engaged. Anyhow, you get it at this point… The gist is that you can’t go wrong here if you’re a fan of technical and progressive forms of death/thrash metal. Sharp lookin’ record, tons of riffs, their brains are attached when they shred and the flow of the tracklist is immense. A high recommendation.

High recommendation. (80/100)

Rating: 8 out of 10.
TITLE:Animate // Isolate
LABEL(S):Unspeakable Axe Records
RELEASE DATE:April 19th, 2021
BUY & LISTEN:Bandcamp [All Formats]
GENRE(S):Death/Thrash Metal,
Technical Thrash Metal,
Progressive Death Metal

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