(In this post, Andy Synn reviews the 2011 debut album from Hampshire, UK’s Ageless Oblivion.)
You may not have heard of this band, but doubtless you will be doing so more in the future. With a fresh take on the death metal dynamic, this, their debut album, provides a master class in modern death metal, shot through with unusual progressive impulses and a slight –core edge. The former is a surprising development that showcases the organic integration of unexpected and diverse influences into the group’s sound, while the latter is far from a disparaging statement, merely an acknowledgement of the album as a product of its time and environment.
The playing throughout is deft and highly skilled, without veering into territory one could describe (often dismissively) as “tech”. While there is no doubt some complex fretwork going on here, it’s always done in service to the song and as part of an overall pattern of interlocking riffs, woven together seamlessly. Drums clatter and pound with impressive force, eschewing the simple blast-blast-blast approach in favour of punchy, jarring kick patterns and sharp, hammer-blow snare-beats, while the vocals favour a tormented, guttural howl that successfully captures an all-too-human sense of rage and despair, making a rare emotional connection with the listener.
The developing song-writing abilities of the group stand them in good stead, employing both common and uncommon elements in diverse, compelling arrangements. It’s no secret that they take an underlying influence from bands outside the death metal realm, in particular the monolithic, ghostly soundscapes of Cult of Luna, whose presence manifests itself strongly throughout, particularly on the ominous ambient intro of “Monument”.
The record proper kicks in with the shotgun to the chest of “Reclamation”, all demonic roars and machine-like, blasting drums. The guitars tread a careful line between dissonance and melody, keeping their riffs tight and taut and accenting them with whirling blasts of tremolo-led ferocity. The bass has a strong presence, adding in weight what it lacks in clarity, further adding to the doomy aura that permeates every aspect of the writing.
“Time Of The Empty Throne” begins with a notable Misery Index vibe, rolling power on the edge of collapse, casually injecting stellar technical runs and sudden rhythmic shifts to catch the unwary listener. The mammoth, grinding chorus chords are utterly crushing, and lead up to a terrifically effective section of stark, Neurosis-inspired dynamics and Nile-esque drumming abuse. Throughout the track, guitars accent their low-slung, reverberant tone with eerie quasi-melodies, adding layers of subtlety that serve to give the song an inhuman, esoteric atmosphere.
With its tightly constrained blasting and ever-present kick-drum rumble, “Detachable Faceplate” is a more straight-forward, bludgeoning affair, albeit one replete with clever fret-board tricks and an array of harsh vocal hooks, whose delivery and arrangement invites comparisons to Job For A Cowboy, another band who have shown a similar path of growth and development of their underlying sound. Mid-song, the track brings in an utterly huge, inescapably catchy riff that dominates the proceedings from then on, giving the drums the opportunity to switch up and vary their delivery somewhat, finding ever more interesting ways to deliver an aural beatdown.
With “Drone Of The Nychomist”, Ageless Oblivion continue the thick, rhythmic template they have laid down thus far, with a heavy focus on balancing groove-laden power with vibrant, electric energy. It’s a difficult path to walk; too much groove and you risk creating something too steady and sure, exchanging any sense of urgency for a guarantee of established power. Yet too little groove and it lacks the gut-churning force to really connect with the listener, not to mention being unable to balance out the scintillating, but often hard to grasp, flair of the song’s more overtly energetic, technical elements. “Drone Of The Nychomist” shows that the band know what they’re doing, however, every riff matching relentless, bulldozing intensity with burning, blazing energy. The song is filled with enough bloody hooks to pose a real safety hazard, from the sliding, fret-shifting riffs, to the volcanic drumming rhythms, to the glorious, screaming vocal refrains that close out the track.
“Unhallowed Domain” begins with definite nods towards Aborted, its furious pace and catchy, yet tooth-rattling riffs echoing the élan of the Belgian gore-masters. Weirdly compelling in its rhythms and rolling power, the song is a dance of death between dissonant aggression and piercing anti-melody. Though not big on stand-out solos, the group have shown throughout the record the importance of lead-rhythm interplay, the former adding dark character and evil melody, while the latter adds heavyweight power and undeniable, hypnotic groove. That being said, “Unhallowed Domain” showcases the only break into prominent soloing present on the record, a whirling, dizzying affair that introduces a thread of narcotic melody before melding back into the murky depths of rabid death riffage and visceral, lung-bursting screams.
“Mycora” is a short, largely instrumental piece, big on mood and sparse in vocals, with only a single, repeated scream of the track’s title serving as its lyrical content. More restrained and with a haunting undercurrent of loss and regret, it serves as a palette cleanser for the supermassive finale of “Temples”.
This final track breaks the 13 minute mark with an ambitious arrangement of clever, progressive structuring and sheer, undeniable ferocity. Riffs drop like bunker busters, heavy and explosive, leaving only devastation in their wake, while bleak, seductive guitar leads pierce the heavy gloom with harmonic anguish. From start to finish the guttural vocals spit venom and vitriol, rising to a nerve-shredding scream as the song ascends to a berserk crescendo, yet all the while the drums control and conduct the chaos with unerring, militaristic precision
A culmination of the direction and ambition of the record as a whole, “Temples” manages the extremely difficult task of keeping a 13-minute song compelling and interesting throughout, to the extent that it feels far shorter than it is, yet on reflection one can recall every moment in stark detail, with no sense of the time passing in between.
Lengthy passages of threatening atmospherics and ominous, hanging chords add variety to the song’s structure, dragging the listener into looming shadow and menacing darkness, the song’s crippling density delivered with monstrous patience and lethal intent, showcasing the group’s impressive grasp of structural dynamics and emotive delivery.
The return to dragging, crippling death metal is a welcome one after the dark and unsettling mid-song ambience, staccato explosions of kick drums and syncopated riffage hammering home the final nails in the coffin, leading to the song’s awesome finale, an exploration of fiendish melodic themes and haunting guitar melodies which sacrifice none of the album’s power or vigour.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Temples of Transcendent Oblivion is available now through the Siege of Amida web store as well as iTunes and Amazon. More info about Ageless Oblivion is available through their Facebook page. Here’s the band’s official video for “Reclamation” — the song can also be freely downloaded via S.O.A.R.’s Bandcamp page (here):