Blue Stahli
Obsidian


3.0
good

Review

by Aeri USER (42 Reviews)
August 19th, 2021 | 14 replies


Release Date: 2021 | Tracklist

Review Summary: The splinter of home, alone on the mountain.

You know, similar to my previous review... I can’t honestly say I’ve thought about Bret Autrey/Blue Stahli for a pretty damn long time.

Sure, back in 2015 The Devil impressed through twelve tracks of fun, bombastic semi-industrial rock – helped to no end by Autrey’s willingness to always keep things just that little bit tongue-in-cheek, lest the ride stop being entertaining and instead starts to feel overly serious. From the blood splattered ‘Ultranumb’ music video to the slamming thrash metal-infused ‘Not Over Till We Say So’, Blue Stahli relentlessly delivered material that seemingly toed a line between breakneck speed and hysterical laughter – all within the warm, snuggly confines of electronic metal. Or perhaps your still lukewarm corpse, if the man’s propensity to draw from gory horror influences is to be any indicator. Of course, that’s not to say Autrey couldn’t piece together some believably heavy material when the occasion called for it. The man has a fantastic ear for infectious, catchy guitar riffs that still retain the capability to feel aggressive while also being apparently delivered by an ear-splitting grinning madman wielding a six string – a talent I’d fondly liken to System of a Down’s Daron Malakian, if no one else. And, make no mistake, both the self-titled Blue Stahli and following The Devil are absolutely full to the brim of them, resulting in a swiftly accumulating fanbase who frankly couldn’t wait to hear Autrey’s latest vocal outing.

But the thing is, following The Devil’s 2015 release… things kind of slowed down a little.

Not completely, of course; Autrey frequently dabbled in instrumental material releases from 2016-2018, mainly through the long running Antisleep records alongside the odd remix or more experimental release (see Sunset Neon for more). However, while fans pined for the next vocal album to finally nuclear blast its way out of Autrey’s seemingly limitless cave of wonders… it didn’t seem to actually be happening. There was a hint with the 2018 single ‘Lakes of Flame’, which essentially served as an appetiser to what would apparently be The Devil 2.0 stylistically, with Autrey assuring fans that there was indeed more material on the way, but 2019-2020 saw an odd turn regarding the artist’s relationship with renowned electronic rock/metal label, FiXT. Without idly speculating, the long and short of it is that Autrey’s material was simply ‘on hold’, for reasons none could understand or answer. Autrey would appear enthusiastic when speaking of the upcoming record(s), yet also frustrated, while FiXT remained mostly silent or dismissive of fan questions regarding the matter. However, with the artist’s departure from the label in 2020 to then suddenly dropping not one, not two, but three records over the span of six months… it would certainly appear that something was occurring unhappily behind closed doors. The primarily instrumental 2020 outings Quartz and Copper swiftly became available through Blue Stahli as independent releases in the latter half of the year, with the third long awaited vocal album Obsidian rapidly approaching in January 2021 – thus apparently proving Autrey’s sheer wealth of accumulated material that was ‘on hold’ all along.

So, now that we have it, was it worth the wait?

Well, for starters, Obsidian is easily Autrey’s most mature record to date, with the source of such maturity also being extremely unfortunate. Alongside the album’s apparently turbulent production prior to (and following) label departure, Autrey’s mother also passed away in the years leading up to Obsidian’s release, a matter that makes itself extremely apparent when considering the record’s lyrical content. From the likes of ‘Prognosis’s main chorus line ”how long is the body beholden? How long ‘til we run out of road?” to the sombre direction of ‘Nothing Ever Stays’ through such lines as ”long for better, nothing ever stays, long for better days, nothing ever stays”, Autrey’s headspace throughout the album is absolutely clear; a fact that also wholeheartedly bleeds into the instrumentation. For example, while never a man to remain anchored to any particular genre (see the various Antisleep outings for further clarity), ‘Obsidian’ immediately sets the stage with what veers ever so slightly into orchestral/symphonic metal, blending harrowing strings with palm-muted guitar riffs alongside Autrey’s frankly eerie delivery of ”in the way of all flesh, all unmade with the rest.” The track eventually explodes into an absolutely gnarly dubstep-esque bass drop – however, instead of the typical drop you might expect hoping to tweak your interest with bleeps and gimmicks, ‘Obsidian’s instead feels outright violent. More of an enraged lashing out as opposed to a crowd pleasing drop the bass kind of deal. It’s honestly an excellent album opener, even in spite of the theatricality of the strings perhaps being a little on the nose.

Elsewhere, ‘The Mountain’ showcases some of the album’s finest material through what ultimately proves Obsidian’s greatest strength; a willingness to (occasionally) truly commit to a serious, emotive atmosphere. Lyrically, the track feels lost and without direction – in the best way possible. From ”here, the splinter of home, alone on the mountain” to ”even with the loss of my breath, even with the stone on my chest”, ‘The Mountain’ is beautifully constructed, from exquisite pitter patters of electronic flair to the occasional dissonant guitar lead that peppers throughout, the track has far more akin to A Perfect Circle than anything Autrey has ever released previously (and perhaps a little bit of Circle of Dust too via the down tuned menacing vocal that shows up now and again, however that might be a little awkward now…). Album closer ‘Daylight’ and the aforementioned ‘Nothing Ever Stays’ also offer a shift into more subdued, introspective territory compared to earlier Blue Stahli work, with the latter mostly swapping out the chirpy electronics of prior Blue Stahli material to instead deliver a soundscape far more in line with the likes of instrumental Lo-Fi. Indeed, ‘Nothing Ever Stays’ is immediately poignant with its direction, with the lyrical content making unflinching reference to the longing ache of loss, while rolling percussive beats fall throughout the track with the apparent disorganisation as rain heavily battering down upon the outside of a tent canvas – a comparison helped to no end by the watery, detuned vocals contorting and morphing that continually appear throughout the mid-section. Similarly, ‘Daylight’s sombre vocal performance of such lines as ”daylight passed away, they might sometime find a way to make right” also demonstrates Autrey’s continued dwelling within a similar headspace, the track itself being the calmest on the record by far.

That being said, Obsidian also sees Autrey finding the time to piece together some of the most aggressive material of his entire career; ‘Endure’ blasts onto the scene with some blatantly Slipknot-inspired riffage (albeit before dissipating into two and a half minutes of rather lacklustre ambience), while ‘Catastrophe’ absolutely drenches the listener with sludgy, downtuned guitar tones complete with dissonant distortion and screeching harmonics that pepper throughout. With the track finally culminating in a tribal-infused percussive bridge and scorching guitar lick, Autrey presents a creative temper that frankly sounds p**sed off lyrically – ”curse the guilt of the survivor, fickle conquest of the end of life”.

Now with all that being considered, while the writing itself certainly proves evocative, it is also worth noting that Autrey himself keeps to what is perhaps his most restrained vocal performance thus far throughout the album. Minus the opening 20 seconds of ‘Endure’, if you were keen to hear more aggressive, harsher tones from the Phoenix, Arizona vocalist, especially when paired with what easily stands as Autrey’s most serious lyricism to date… well, you’ll be disappointed. The vocal performance is certainly competent, yet undeniably a little samey as the album continues; a criticism that can also be directed to some of the more regular ‘Blue Stahli-ish’ tracks of Obsidian. While ‘Prognosis’, ‘Legion’ and ‘One Last Breath’ are all fine, there’s honestly not much else to be said about them, instead mostly feeling like filler The Devil or Antisleep b-sides as opposed to the album’s superior material. Even ‘Gravity’, a track that by all rights does an excellent job of meshing Autrey’s heavier inclinations with the catchier offerings of Blue Stahli’s catalogue, still appears to be somewhat hesitant in truly committing to the best of Obsidian – in spite of revealing clear influence from the likes of Deftones.

Honestly, the question once again comes to mind, when considering what people might actually want from a Blue Stahli record in 2021, was it worth the wait? Well, to be excruciatingly infuriating, the answer is yes and no. True, the album happily disperses more of the same The Devil-esque material I praised mere moments ago whilst opening this review, but the upshot is there’s truly nothing happy about any of this album. The inspiration for Obsidian’s lyrical direction throughout most of the record is blatantly painful to Autrey, so to then hear material written with the clear cut attempt of re-capturing some of the more light-hearted, lively environment of previous Blue Stahli outings (and in turn sensing an undeniably lacking enthusiasm within such material)… it just doesn’t work. Like it or not, the best of Obsidian is what displays true, raw emotion – and, at times, Autrey achieves this with admirable results. While I do not doubt that Blue Stahli will once again release more carefree music in the future, Obsidian clearly originated from a creative (and mental) space that was still dealing with personal and professional crisis; frustrated, heartbroken, and extremely p**sed off, trapped climbing what must have appeared at the time an impossible mountain.



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user ratings (17)
3.5
great


Comments:Add a Comment 
Aerisavion
August 19th 2021


3145 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

As always, feedback welcome.



Edit: I should reclarify re - Quartz/Copper. While Quartz features a fair amount of vocal work and is *technically* the third Blue Stahli vocal album, Obsidian has been in the making for so damn long (if the album's trajectory is to be believed, considering it was teased way back in 2018 as the next Blue Stahli vocal album) that it only felt right to consider it the true sequel to The Devil.



I'll probably come around to Quartz at a later date.

William21
August 19th 2021


886 Comments


Huh, so this guy and Klayton don't get along anymore

Aerisavion
August 19th 2021


3145 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

From the looks of things, that friendship has sailed - yup.

Toondude10
August 19th 2021


15195 Comments


not entirely sure what happened but yeah they had a falling out and now they fucking hate each other

apparently the FiXT label and Klayton have been abusing their workers and Bret for several years, and looking at it right now I'm not surprised. Klayton does have a massive ego.

William21
August 19th 2021


886 Comments


Klayton's also a bit of a control freak... dude can't even stop remaking his own music, he's remastering the original Circle of Dust songs *again*

Aerisavion
August 20th 2021


3145 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

Sadly, the dude has apparently turned into exactly the kind of asshole he used to openly despise; a millionaire LA exec who sits pretty at the top treating all below him like shit.



Don’t know how much is 100% true, but that’s the rumour.



https://www.reddit.com/r/FiXT/comments/go6oh0/what_happened_to_bret/?utm_source=share&utm_medium=ios_app&utm_name=iossmf



I honestly hope it’s not true - Klayton is one of my personal heroes for proving that an underdog with nothing can come through the other side successful, but the signs have kinda been there for years. In particular, the whole ‘my face is on ALL THE MERCH’ that seems to infect his major projects - there’s definitely some ego there.

William21
August 20th 2021


886 Comments


You'd think he'd remember all the crap he had to deal with in his pre-Fixt years (REX Records, anyone?). But assuming it's true, I guess it's just another example of power and money corrupting.

bloc
August 20th 2021


70400 Comments


Was pretty disappointed with this one. Seems like the only good album he has is the self titled

bloc
August 20th 2021


70400 Comments


Also oooh did not know about this spicy drama between Blue Stahli and Red Rooster

Toondude10
August 20th 2021


15195 Comments


Red Rooster lmfao

Bret has had some good cuts here and there but yeah his debut is more or less the only record he's got that's consistent

Aerisavion
August 20th 2021


3145 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

Anything after the s/t definitely feels more tame for sure, especially vocally - the man had a decent scream on that album.

Bhurke
October 17th 2021


130 Comments


deleting

ChrimzonCanine
December 14th 2021


2080 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

Not Over Til We Say So is probably the only thing I come back to. Self-titled also wore off me years ago

unlog1c
August 26th 2022


204 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

Quartz is as by the numbers Blue Stahli as it gets. Copper is surprisingly fresh and engaging. Obsidian is the most calculated of the three and at the same time most sterile. I don't know if three albums were warranted, I'd rather see a longer mishmash LP with filler cut out. Oh well, still love Bret.



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