I have no way of knowing if anyone will read this letter. It joins the others which have been hidden in the knot-hole of the ancient tree on top of the mountain that locals simply call “the big one,” to which I make a daily pilgrimage. My life has become oriented around what I can only describe as a portal to the future.
Few will understand the reasons that drove me to climb that rocky edifice during the dead of night in a driving thunderstorm, but suffice to say that I carried with me a number of sacred objects — and a sweet CrO2 tape with Altars of Madness on the front and Legion on the back — in the hope of inducing a bend in the time-space continuum which can be effected by occult practice. I made my sacrifice at the tree, and in my moment of triumph, raised my sacrificial knife and received from the heavens a jolt of lightning, from which I awoke hours later.
Each time I ascend, the letter left the day before in the knot-hole is gone, replaced by a cassette tape from twenty years in the future. I have no idea by what force this condition perpetuates itself, since it must be either gods or aliens and both are beyond my knowledge, but I faithfully retrieve the tapes and with trembling hands, insert them into the neon demon yellow “Sports” Walkman™ that my grandmother bought me for my twelfth birthday.
My calendar reads November 4, 1992. And yet, I find myself listening to Ritual Chamber Obscurations, a release from the distant time of 2016 when I will be in my forties and probably ignoring all things death metal, although right now, death metal is sort of my life. Like most things from the future, it seems slightly off, when viewed from this time. Things are different here. Bill Clinton was elected president last night, people are wearing acid wash jeans, and the Soviet Union just collapsed last year.
Following an adrenaline rush from jiu jitsu practice and a couple of beers, I pulled the headphones over my head and pressed the chunky PLAY button. Then I leaned back and let the sound flow through me. Obscurations starts off with some real evil sounding shit. Like some Italian horror movie. I am down with this atonal, really heavy driving beat at the beginning. Lets grind it a bit, but not to fast. Where will this dark road lead?
What would normally be fast on a death metal album is slow, and what is usually slow is now fast. The overall pace seems to be slow, like a doom metal record or Onward to Golgotha. But the fast riffs, which are grinding and trebly, counter the low and bassy old school, possibly Asphyx-inspired riffs and this formula works. I like that song structures have some variance, too, because nothing sucks like when a band tries to be Metallica and churns out the same old Led Zep style verse, chorus, bridge and solo nonsense.
What makes this album different from many metal albums is that it manages to hold my attention. The bass, vocals, and some of the riffs appear to be so constant that they could be boring. But they are not, because the overall vibe is so strong that it punches through any weakness. This band uses very consistent, simple elements with subtle musical variation to create a horror movie like atmosphere, like drunk hookers and homeless tweakers having a Hellraiser-style ritual in the forgotten hills around a dead city.
On the second track I really like drummer Dario Derna shows something different with his toms on the opening, along with the grinded guitars. The time signature is different than the first track, for better or worse. As the recording goes on I begin to notice the bass is punchier and tighter, and the guitars become more thick and chorused. A somewhat forced doom part at the end of track two still works.
As the third song rolls in you start to realize that this is just a really great old school sounding head-banging death metal band. It probably could use another solo or two, but its not something I would slit my wrists over. The best thing about a recording like this is that you are really getting your money’s worth, since its solid. The goal to be heavy and morbid has been achieved. Thrown into the vortex of living hell, this album makes me feel like I had one more beer and an extra bong hit than I really had, so that saves me money too. The synth sounds on track four are other worldly by the way. Some of the tempo changes are really smoothly executed.
Some brief Disembowlment inspired reverb guitar kicks my ass around track four (21:23). The waltzy time signature towards the end of the tune adds some variety. Then a really heavy but kinda boring doom riff with an Asphyx solo comes next. Is it sick? Yes! If you don’t have long hair anymore, you will wish to regrow it in order to head-bang thoroughly to this. The singer is just eating Christian gnomes for breakfast or something. I have a feeling these guys won’t be playing Super Bowl halftime shows anytime soon, but maybe that’s a good thing.
A Parasitic Universe, song five, is now getting progressive, but don’t worry, its still doomy and strong. Anyone who didn’t slit their wrist or jump off a bridge by this point in the album is now still head-banging. We get a crazy faster riff a few riffs in, that’s welcome. There’s some obnoxious higher pitched unintelligible vocals that add some flavor to the mix here. We’re at the twenty-nine minute mark, and this could be a good riff to get your girlfriend to grind to. Then, back to the mosh-pit again, for more pain. There’s some Morbid Angel influence entering the album at this point and into song six (minus the solos and flashy production).
I like the buildup at the thirty-six minute mark. Some early Grave influence follows. The distortion on the bass comes in and sounds killer. And there’s some nice double bass at the end of the song, followed by an abrupt ending. I’m not sure about the organ part at the end of the tape. It reminds me of those little old keyboards you could find in your grandparent’s attic. There’s some cool chanting like in Ghoulies at the end too (it even sounds like Beta).
The production is good, because it is not overdone. It could use more demon-hell sounds throughout the album too, since it seems like a good album for the people in hell to get sadistically tortured to. As the album goes on you get lost in a trance and wind up head-banging through the rest of it. Like everything else on this album, the production is a texture of really straightforward parts but then they go fiddling with the details, making it interesting and manipulating atmosphere.
So what’s the album missing? Rock influence. Blues. Syncopation, call and response. A shoe company tie-in. Shall we dock it because of that? No. Well, maybe I would add a little rock (Dio’s band-like) drums. I would probably take my time more with the build-ups. Possibly abandon drums for more stretches, and let the guitars vibe out. Or go fast and slow in the same riff, instead of in different riffs.
Ultimately, the mix of slower beats followed by blasts may get old for some. But this album is pure 90s DM. True headbanger. I’d recommend it. Buy the tape, lift some weights, and beat up some mortals. You know how sometimes when the batteries are low on your Walkman, the music slows down a little and sounds a little heavier? I think I can hear the demons talking to me through this tape!