Obake - Obake
RareNoise Records
10 songs (47:46)
Release year: 2011
RareNoise Records
Reviewed by Charles
Surprise of the month
Once upon a time it would have been a real revelation to hear a metal record that balanced artsy pedigree with such an immediately immersing sound as Obake’s self-titled. The wild early efforts at a genuine fusion between avant-garde music and metal were kitchen-blender experiments that furiously hurled the most extreme examples of either tradition at each other to see what would happen. PainKiller, for example, saw free-improv doyen John Zorn jamming with former Napalm Death force of nature, Mick Harris, with results that were simultaneously sickeningly disorientating and totally thrilling. Last Exit had terrifying saxophonist Peter Brötzmann and far-out fusion musicians like Sonny Sharrock collaborating on an anarchic cavalcade of rock riffing and atonal soloing. To date, the work of these bands lie amongst the most extreme pieces of music I have ever heard.

Nowadays, though, there is an ‘avant-garde’ metal scene which is a lot more popularly accessible, if that’s not too much of a contradiction. These currents have coalesced around a couple of major points, both of which are clear influences on Obake. Firstly, Mike Patton’s unique career casts a heavy shadow, particularly his work with Fantomas. Obake’s penchant for balancing the heaviosity of pounding doom influences with a sense of the weird and eclectic finds a precedent in the Fantomas/Melvins collaboration Millenium Monsterwork. And the horror-soundtrack ambiance which pervades much of this record’s quieter passages also evokes records like The Director’s Cut and Delirium Corda. Secondly, more recent bands like Ephel Duath, Orannssi Pazuzu and Zu have explored a fertile terrain fusing raucous metal riffing with curious imports from jazz and other musics. In fact, Zu bassist Massimo Pupillo actually plays in Obake, alongside three other musicians whose CVs encompass such diverse reference points as Venetian Snares, Bill Laswell and Sigillum-S.

These citations don’t really encapsulate what this record is about, though. Each track experiments with different moods and different styles, but rather than feeling imposingly or pretentiously post-modern, the tunes here are based around clear hooks and ideas which are packaged tightly into five minute track lengths. Obake initially announces itself as a doom metal album, with the pumping piston riffs of first two tracks Human Genome Project and Dog Star Ritual suggesting the likes of The Melvins, Acid King or Electric Wizard. These influences, however, are given a sense of steaming industrial weirdness by the electronic noises which tend to crowd in on the sound. Moreover, erstwhile opera singer Lorenzo Esposito Fornasari’s by turns hissed and chanted vocals are as melodramatic as Rammstein’s Til Lindemann, adding to the off-the-wall feel. But the relatively structured riffing of this opening brace soon derails entirely, taking a darker turn. The clammy, eye-swivelling atmospherics of third track The End of it All hit you suddenly with an apocalyptic slab of quasi-noise, which builds from sinister dub into an ear-piercing climax of what could almost be described as freeform black metal.

At other points, particularly after the intensity of the first three tracks, the album simmers down into a number of sweaty quasi-ambient jams. Szechenyi, for example, places Balazs Pandi’s skittering percussion centre-stage, with his drum solos fluttering over gloomy bass tones, evoking the ghostly experimentation of tracks like King Crimson’s Moonchild. Contained within under five minutes, though, this is more compact, with tightly-wound peaks and troughs being expertly and rapidly negotiated. Letters to Ghosts has the sleazy vibe of a giallo soundtrack, drawing similarities with the instrumental horror-prog act Morte Macabre, and closer Grandmother Spider is a masterpiece of ominous dub jamming (comparable to one of the brilliant Oranssi Pazuzu's more exotic numbers).

Because Obake opens with pounding doom and then shifts down a gear to experiment with more ambient ideas (with clear exceptions, like the blood-curdling bonsai-Khanate of Ponerology or the striding gothic horror of Destruction of the Tower), the overall impression is an odd one. It feels disjointed when played in totality, which is perhaps unavoidable when the influences on display are so diverse. But, any unevenness cannot detract from the horrors, the intrigue and the creative energy that infest this record. The evocativeness of the band's sinister atmospherics combined with their ability to play heavy music convincingly means that despite its apparent bid for avant-garde status Obake will feel like familiar territory for those listeners au fait with any of the bands mentioned above. Put simply, this is highly recommended for those with an interest in experimental metal, as well as those searching for a compact slab of musical darkness.

Killing Songs :
Human Genome Project, The End of it All, Ponerology, Grandmother Spider
Charles quoted 85 / 100
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