The Swedish black metal band Obitus have done something remarkable: They’ve made a 45-minute album consisting of a single song that’s on the attack relentlessly, and yet it’s a harrowing thrill-ride straight through to the end.
Now you can either skip straight to the end of this post and start listening to our stream premiere, or you can continue reading, but I wouldn’t recommend trying to do both at the same time — or trying to do anything else while listening to this onslaught. For those who might be interested in more of a preview before you throw yourself into the tornado, I shall continue.
Let’s return to the elephant in the room, the question that many will skeptically ask themselves: How does a band make a 45-minute song that doesn’t cause a listener’s mind to wander, or worse yet, become downright monotonous? And here’s an even more challenging question: How does a band do that without breaking up the album into dramatically contrasting movements, providing passages of reprieve to go along with the inferno, or creating something so droning and trippy that it would appeal only to people high enough that they’d be entranced by the sound of grass growing?
In this case Obitus carry the listener along for 45 minutes through the sheer staggering force of their intensity, though that intensity takes different shapes. To be sure, the music does ebb and flow, but there is no real breathing room, no comfort, no release from the tension, no beauty in this very dark and dystopian nightmare.
At full strength, the music is a firestorm and a hurricane combined. The drumming is obliterating and remorseless, moving at inhuman speed and with a mechanistic, quasi-industrial precision matched only by the immense battering power of its impact. It thunders, jackhammers, and punches with militaristic imperiousness, yet tumbling progressions and other rhythmic variations are introduced that prevent the barrage from becoming exhausting.
In full incineration mode, the riffing is grim, frenzied, and maniacal, but the vocals are no less maniacal. The scorching shrieks and excruciating expulsions of bile and poison are hair-raising in their intensity, and become even more destructive when they’re occasionally combined with voracious death growls. Yet the vocals themselves have a rhythm, and as they repeat the chorus, the voice almost sounds like song.
The rampant destructiveness of these turbocharged passages is somehow both coldly mechanized and wildly blood-lusting at the same time, and a straight 45 minutes of it might be too much to take. But exhaustion doesn’t set in, for at least two reasons. First, as noted earlier, the intensity ebbs as well as flows. The song alternates between full-bore explosiveness and somewhat more subdued minutes in which the drumming slows and the vocals disappear, in which dissonant guitar notes chime and pulse, or trilling melody lines surface to add their own kind of chilling intensity to the song.
Second, as the song unfolds, there are subtle variations in both the hurricane-strength assaults and the somewhat more subdued segments. In the song’s first half, there is one passage in which a vibrant riff appears that conveys a sense of forlorn, aching grief and another in which the melody takes on a lilting quality, even as everything around it is harsh and hostile. And other more subtle changes are introduced almost every time the surge explodes again, or the blast front passes by before the next one arrives.
There is a union in this album, as there was in the band’s first full-length, between the sensations of the sound and the thematic subject matter that animates it. It envisions a totalitarian future not dissimilar to the one described by George Orwell in 1984. The band explicitly quote one famous line from the novel, which I’ve put in boldface below:
“There will be no curiosity, no enjoyment of the process of life. All competing pleasures will be destroyed. But always — do not forget this, Winston — always there will be the intoxication of power, constantly increasing and constantly growing subtler. Always, at every moment, there will be the thrill of victory, the sensation of trampling on an enemy who is helpless. If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face — forever.”
In listening to the song, another quote from 1984 also struck me as relevant to the music’s atmosphere:
“The old civilizations claimed that they were founded on love or justice. Ours is founded upon hatred. In our world there will be no emotions except fear, rage, triumph, and self-abasement. Everything else we shall destroy — everything.”
You could think of the music as either an expression of the hate and destructiveness of a totalitarian regime in total control of the people it has turned into slaves, or the agony, desperation, and derangement of the subjugated, bereft of hope and with nothing left to lose except their lives. Or perhaps both experiences are being captured in the song. Either way, the music is utterly bleak, but utterly gripping.
Slaves of the Vast Machine will be co-released by Black Plague Records and Hypnotic Dirge Records on February 16, 2017. It was produced, engineered, mixed, and mastered by Obitus at Studio H. Manaicus. The album is available for pre-order digitally and on CD. A limited-edition shirt is also available, either separately or in a shirt + CD bundle. Orders can be placed here:
The members of Obitus are:
Anders Ahlbäck: all music and instruments
Johan Huldtgren: all lyrics and vocals
The guest death vocals are by Fredrik Huldtgren (Canopy, Kaos Vortex).