Obliteration’s debut album was one which took me by surprise, discovered by chance in a second-hand record shop some months back. Packed full of tight-picked riffs, blasts, hellish atmosphere and infernal roars, 2007’s ‘Perpetual Decay’ is a beautiful amalgamation of late ’80s/early ’90s death insanity. The band is perhaps also slightly famous for its Darkthrone connections with Nocturno Culto introducing them to the world via his Tyrant Syndicate label, and his partner-in-crime Fenriz recommending their 2009 sophomore with the following words: “…they have with this recording succeeded at what we in Darkthrone attempted on our ‘Soulside Journey’ and ‘Goatlord’ albums – a death metal masterpiece.”
‘The Distant Sun’ kicks off ‘Black Death Horizon’ with an atmospheric windy start, appropriate to the cosmic cover art. As the music materialises, doom and desolation dictate the pace with some crazed shrieks on top. The very first impression then is of something far grimier than the debut – Autopsy-ish, while simultaneously not – and on which the vocals are shrieked rather than forcefully belted out. (To my surprise, this is still the same guy as on ‘Perpetual Decay’…) Give it a few minutes though and the speed does kick in. Particularly cool is the metallic bass sound which permeates everything and really provides a springboard for Arlid Myren Torp’s maniacal solo work. With ‘Goat Skull Crown’ yet more of that hectic speed – reminiscent of the debut – appears before giving way to a nice tempo shift back into slow misery like the opener. In this track, there is even somewhat of an abstract ‘operatic’ vocal part and subsequent yell of ‘Unleash the fire birds!’, neither of which would seem entirely out of place on a latter Darkthrone album.
The ominous guitar work and speed at the beginning of ‘Transient Passage’ is nothing short of excellent, and will surely scythe heads from bodies in the live arena. On top of great riffs, there is also some fantastically varied abuse of the drum-kit to provide musical twists and turns. The two elements in unison really add ripping contrast to those cavernous doom overtones – as in the likes of ‘Ascendance’. The one aspect I can’t get over as the album continues, however, is the contemporary vocal styling. For all of the musical nuances and brilliance, it’s hard to ignore the OTT ridiculousness of some of the yelps and screeches which emerge. While it’s obviously not designed to be pretty, such piercing weirdness does seem a bit unnecessary. Bar the odd times when my attitude to it has softened a bit, I’ve largely found it better to focus on the music and relegate the vocals to the background (as much as possible).
Come the ritualistic and brilliantly titled outro ‘Churning Magma’, and my feelings on the album as a whole are mixed. On the one hand, ‘Black Death Horizon’ is a musical death metal barnstormer; on the other, it’s dragged down quite considerably for this listener by the ghastly vocal performance. If only Sindre Solem had retained a similar style to that on ‘Perpetual Decay’ then this would be scoring very heavily indeed. All things considered then, it’s a comparatively disappointing…