Recommended for fans of: Primitive Man, Body Void, Iron Monkey
Variety, or so they say, is the spice of life. And since last month’s edition of The Synn Report was a rip-roaring Black-Thrash spectacular, I decided that this time around we’d go for a soul-crushing slow-motion apocalypse instead, courtesy of Colorada (by way of New Mexico) Blackened Sludge crew Oryx.
Since their formation in 2012, the trio – bassist Eric Dodgion, drummer Abigail Davis, and guitarist/vocalist Tommy Davis – have been churning out gut-wrenching grooves and bone-jarring jams, with every album (only three of which I’ll be covering in detail here today, due to the fact that ¾ of their hard-to-find self-titled debut was rewritten and re-recorded for 2014’s Widowmaker, with many people thus considering this their “official” first full-length) delivering wave after wave of filthy distortion and creepy, hypnotic hooks which make it feel like you’re bathing in solid, suffocating sound.
And what a sound it is… rugged and raw and unrelentingly bleak, Oryx are the sort of band whose every release should probably come with a public health advisory stating that their music isn’t suitable for anyone with a weak constitution.
Consider yourselves duly warned.
WIDOWMAKER – 2014
The band’s sophomore/debut album (feel free to argue amongst yourselves which it is) kicks off with the bleak, brooding vibes of “Awakening”, a song which, over the course of just over eight minutes, firmly establishes that this is not going to be a happy or hopeful album.
No, it’s going to be a dark, desolate slog through all the murk and muck, all the fuzz and fog, that the band can conjure up from their own pitch-black, sludge-soaked, souls, and the overdriven distortion, lurching rhythms, and half-howled, half-sung, vocals of “Awakening” are just the tip of the ominous iceberg.
“Withered” is four-and-a-half minutes of droning Doom and groaning gloom, interspersed with ugly spasms of blackened belligerence, that sits somewhere between Khanate and Celtic Frost in both style and execution, while the aptly-named “Self-destruction” is a grim, gravity-warping crusher so heavy that it constantly feels like it’s about to collapse in on itself under its own weight.
“To Create an Apparition” – one of the three songs reworked/re-recorded from their self-titled 2013 effort, groans and grinds with relentless, glacial intensity, its occasional bursts of up-tempo ugliness inevitably leading to a subsequent descent even further into the doomy, guttural depths of depravity, after which “Imminent Death” (arguably the album’s best track) strikes a more menacingly melodic, but still morbidly heavy, chord, accentuating its ragged riffs, rumbling bass lines, and raw-throated vocals with an extra touch of acid-tinged atmosphere along the way.
Penultimate track, “The Seance”, continues in this same sort of grimly melodic, gloomily metallic vein, channelling the unholy spirit of Electric Wizard and the living ghost of EyeHateGod over the course of four fucked up, fuzz-infused minutes, following which the titanic, twelve minute title-track – all humongous, hanging chords, bowel-loosening, bass-heavy grooves, and sombre, stripped-back drum work – brings things to a suitably devastating and doom-laden close.
STOLEN ABSOLUTION – 2018
While it may have taken the band four years to deliver the follow-up to Widowmaker, one listen to the perfectly-titled “Blackened Earth” should be more than enough to convince you that Stolen Absolution was well worth the weight, as this track immediately introduces you to an even harsher, heavier, and – yes – more blackened version of Oryx, one which isn’t afraid to up the tempo, and the aggression, while still maintaining an intimidating aura of oppressive doom and gloom throughout.
“Born for Death” re-emphasises the doomier, sludgier side of the band’s sound in a way that feels like a direct response to the short, sharp shock of “Blackened Earth”, the drums laying down a predatory, prowling pace beneath a seeping slurry of sludgy riffs and warped, pseudo-harmonics (reminding me, in parts, of a more twisted version of early Bell Witch) which eventually builds into a roiling torrent of abrasive distortion and howling venom, punctuated only by a brief moment of crisp, melodic clarity that helps make this one of the most dramatic, and dynamic, songs the band have written yet.
“Abject” is just under eight minutes of moody ambience, malevolent atmosphere, and absolutely massive riffs, that goes heavier, harder, and harsher, than anything we’ve heard from Oryx up and to this point (making the comparisons you may have seen/read elsewhere to bands like Inter Arma and Lord Mantis make much more sense in the process), after which – following the unexpectedly nuanced and melodic “Interlude” – “Price of a Dollar” then plunges you right back into a sludge-swamped, doom-drowned mire of gargantuan, groaning guitars (tinged around the edges with a dash of jagged dissonance), primal, pounding drums, and visceral, venom-spewing vocals.
Second to last, but by no means second to least, track, “The World in Ruins” is an overwhelmingly bleak, yet oddly beautiful, study in simple, sombre guitar work, which sets the stage for the album’s grand, groove-tastic finale, whose instantly infectious riffs and hypnotically repetitive rhythms prove that it’s more than possible to write a song that’s as hooky as it is horrible… it just takes a special set of skills to do it right.
LAMENTING A DEAD WORLD – 2021
As good as their first two albums were, the band’s third record (which I originally meant to cover when it first came out but, alas, didn’t find the time to really dig into until recently) is on a whole other level – it’s heavier and harsher, darker and doomier, bleaker and more blackened… and benefits greatly from an even bolder and more bombastic production job that enhances the band’s sound without blunting its edges.
Opener “Contempt” is the shortest track on the album (albeit only by a single second) and quickly lets you know that Oryx are, if anything, even more pissed off than ever this time around, especially when it comes to the vocals, which switch back and forth between a savage, eardrum-lacerating shriek and a gruesome, entrail-quivering growl.
But, while the guitars may be gnarlier, the drums punchier, and the vocals even nastier than ever, Lamenting a Fallen World also finds the band expanding their creative palette a little more too – for example, the vicious and visceral Blackened Doom of “Misery” – a sickening blend of crashing chords and tormented tremolo – also benefits from an added dose of suitably miserable melody and eerily atmospheric (and exceptionally subtle) synth work, something which then carries over into “Last Breath”, whose blend of brooding atmosphere and bile-spewing abrasiveness sits, strangely enough, somewhere between Body Void at their most intense and Gojira at their most introspective.
And although the slow-burn noise-drone soundscape of “Lamenting A Dead World” might seem like an odd addition to the record at first, as soon as colossal closer “Oblivion” makes itself known it becomes clear just how important this penultimate opportunity to take a breath and pause for a moment is in the context of the album as a whole.
Because, good god, is “Oblivion” one hell of a song. Clocking in at just over fifteen minutes in length, it buries you under layer after layer of distortion and melody, atmosphere and atonality, equal parts Black Metal, Doom, and Sludge, where each element and each member – especially guitarist Tommy Davis who gets a chance to cut loose with a cathartic and climactic solo right at the end of the track – locks in tight to create what is easily the best thing the band have ever written, and a more than fitting finale for what is also their best album yet.