Review Summary: Obliteration return to satiate our cravings for all things profane and unholy
Heralded by many as the crown jewel of old school revivalism, with Nekropsalms
considered a revelation and Black Death Horizon
being something of a zenith for the movement, Obliteration’s place atop the death metal chaosphere is an enviable one. Well, sort of. It’s been half a decade since the quartet from Kolbotn “unleash[ed] the firebirds”, yet word of a new opus eluded us for what seemed like aeons. The radio silence was a reminder that the longevity of these monuments was still very much finite. The band nevertheless worked in solitude to hone their latest creation to nigh on perfection, unfazed by the fevered chattering of riff junkies worldwide. At last, Cenotaph Obscure
is upon us, and – just as the Priests of Baal had foretold – the cries of those who believed they were forsaken are to be extinguished in one fell swoop.
Seldom can you draw conclusions based on the first few measures of an album, but the simple, militaristic drum line that opened the title track said that I was to be greeted with a masterclass in throwback-style production. As the percussion joined ranks with the feedback-scorched guitars and fetid though very much audible bass, my inkling turned out to be well warranted. Cenotaph…
may well be the best sounding old school death metal album since the revival took the genre by storm in 2009. All the instruments are in perfect balance with one another, each at liberty to take centre stage thanks to the generous allowances made by the mastering. Don’t get me wrong, this is by no means sanitised; it’s dirty and raw in all the right ways. Simply put, this thing is the remedy to the affliction that is the loudness war.
It’s just as well that there is crankability in droves, because Cenotaph…
rarely lets up for its just-shy-of-forty-minute duration. Moments of sinister grandeur, a la the solo in Black Death Horizon’s
“The Distant Sun”, are conspicuously absent; instead we’re bombarded by Sindre Solem’s deceptively intricate tremolo-picked riffs, sparsely adorned with trills and dive bombs. Juggling duties on both axe and mic, Solem also barks, howls and shrieks forth blasphemies with the same vehemence that immortalised his idols and spiritual predecessors. Powering this motorcade of sacrilege is the drumming of Kristian Valbo, untouched by studio trickery yet perfectly decipherable amid the chaos it facilitates. The crystal clarity of his tom fills and ghost notes are a testament to not only the prowess of the shadowy figures that produced this thing, but also the man’s raw talent behind the kit.
There is a knock-on effect to the album’s intensity, in that one song can bleed into the next if your focus dips at just the wrong time. The moments of brilliance, however, are more than worth wading through one listen after another. Strange, unresolved phrases in “Eldritch Summoning” add a haunting, supernatural tenor to a song already fraught with tension. The cascading doom of “Detestation Rite” acts as a portent of things to come, as “Onto Damnation” follows up with grooves that would make Howls of Ebb’s ears burn. Contrary to what the aesthetic may suggest, there is method to this album’s madness. Of course there is, works like this don’t simply happen. Devotees may have been driven mad by this album’s five-year inception, gnawing at their nails and pulling out their long, stringy hair, but I defy all who say Cenotaph Obscure