Review Summary: Not a Hell release, but a harrowing doom album deserving of its own moniker.
Those somewhat familiar with M.S.W.'s output under the moniker of Hell may well have foresaw something like Obliviosus
on the horizon. An interview with Black Metal & Brews saw him considering retiring the 'Hell' name as far back as 2016, as his unforgiving drone monoliths of old had morphed into more experimental sludge fare. In truth, things have been heading in the current direction for nearly ten years now; Hell III
in 2012 was a frightening two-piece of blackened, slow, anguish-stricken doom metal and after splits with Amarok and Mizmor, Hell
(the 2017 one) represented another notable shift in his project's development. While the sludge still dominated, the post-rock and black elements were heightened further, with lengthy sections of soaring (but very, very bleak) melody complemented with occasional violin and clean, contrastive vocals provided by Karli McNutt.
But, it would seem that Obliviosus
was a bridge too far for M.S.W. to release as 'Hell', and across its runtime, it's reasonably understandable as to why he may have felt that. Obliviosus
, simply put, is as far removed from sludge that the Salem-based musician has ever been, instead manifesting itself more in the zones of conventional doom, ambient and black metal which had been more used as 'flavours' in previous outings. Nothing is about 'the riff' as much here – the guitars don't seek to strike you down with hammer swings of bass, and as such there's no real moment of 'strewth that was heavy' in the same way as on, for example, 'Machitikos' on the most recent Hell album. The guitars are absolutely there, front and centre, but the way they're used as a vehicle for the expression of hopelessness is far more Pallbearer than Primitive Man – more melody, less piledriving. When the energy does get ramped up as seen during apocalyptic opener 'O Brother', the tormented shrieks project pain as opposed to aggression, while blackened blizzards only compound the sense of sorrow one gleans from the release.
At times, Obliviosus
strays firmly away from metallic fare and into more overt post-rock or even classical climes. McNutt's foreboding vocals appear once more during 'O Brother', lending the song a strangely conversational quality, albeit a conversation held by two whom inhabit either different planes or whom are simply speaking into the aether. 'Funus', comprised purely of a piano track with some backing strings, is a pleasantly reflective piece that acts as a palate cleanser before the album goes into full doom with 'Humanity', chorused clean vocals et al. During the eponymous closer, these influences drive to a distinctly crescendo-led destination, combining to create a piece only fractionally shy of 20 minutes. The creation and dissolution of an empyreal landscape over the course of 'Obliviosus' is harrowing, as its last slivers of brightness are dragged into the void by its end, its inhabitants howling through the growing murk as hope is all but given up. Ending with drone and starting with post-rock-laden doom it's a perfect example of how M.S.W. has developed his music over the years. The sludge may not be here any more, but the agony certainly is.