I’ve doubtless gone on record as saying how much I liked Crematory’s “Revolution” album (2004) and how everything since has been a worthy offshoot of that, but I say it again as I now consider the merits of “Oblivion”, the German band’s 14th (yes, fourteenth) album. It’s been a couple of years since the admirable “Monument”. It’s time to top up the Crematorian battery.
The epic, self-publicising intro came as no surprise before we embark upon the customary collection of four and five minute songs. If ever there was a band with a trademark sound, it is Crematory. In fairness, they do break the mould with the symphonically-orientated “Salvation”. The rhythm is dark and pumping as ever but the choral side is an innovation, contrasting and overlapping with Felix’s unmistakeable growly vocals and deeper driving force. It’s powerful and catchy, so there’s no change there. Electronic programming, not an unknown concept, finds its way into “Ghost of the Past”. The chorus as ever is thrust down our throat on these rather dark pop songs. The orchestral arrangement returns for “Until the Dawn” and there is an epic touch before Felix and his instrumentalists get into the groove. Maybe I’m a traditionalist but I thought the balance was disturbed with a cheesy clean chorus, whose intention is doubtless to enhance the epic atmosphere. It doesn’t work for me. The guitar solo is a further add-on. “Until the Dawn” comes across as a bits-and-pieces song. Interestingly the following statement is made in the accompanying blurb: “The motto “less is more” applies to our compositions 100 per cent”. In fact this is what they don’t do on “Until the Dawn” so nothing stands out. This, I’m afraid, becomes more apparent as the album progresses.
It struck me while listening to “Oblivion” that it marks a step change for Crematory, even after all these years and all these albums. “Revenge is Mine” has a softer side and is a cleaner song than what we’ve become accustomed to. Although not blown away, I liked it and appreciated the band’s boldness in exploring new territories. The problem was that by its variation I was having trouble getting into the album. “Wrong Side” has the typical pumping power but it was too slow to sweep me away. The chorus however is memorable and one which sticks. “Stay With Me” is a clean and melancholic ballad, strengthened by powerful instrumentals at the chorus and nicely delivered, but too soppy and clichéd. I thought we were back on course with “For All of Us”, which manages to deliver heavy intensity, but it is part ruined by the weak power metal chorus. It’s as if the heavy metal element has to fight back. Clearly this is a course, which Crematory has charted this time because another clean chorus enters to water down the electro-industrial fire of “Immortal”, the next song. So I guess I had to choose whether I liked this approach or prefer the more straight line, rumbustious approach of “Monument” and its predecessors. The problem I have with the Oblivion approach is that the contrast is so marked that it doesn’t work. In fact it sounds like something is missing. The contrast is less marked on the title track, where the chorus has a more uplifted face and the whole aura is more epic. It doesn’t have to be breakneck dark melodies all the time but there does need to be a consistent feel. “Cemetery Stillness” does manage this and is a breath of fresh air from the past, but just as there is a ray of hope, “Blessed” sinks back into a mass of cheesy nonentity. I’d have ditched this one. It adds nothing. As I listened to the thumping “Demon Inside”, I silently said to myself “don’t ruin it”. I’m pleased to say that that they didn’t. “Demon Inside” has all the dark, catchy, gothic qualities, which I had hoped for all along.
I guess that Crematory should be commended for branching out, but I have to say that I was disappointed with “Oblivion”. To an extent this is my own preconception at work because previous listening to Crematory has been like comfort listening. “Oblivion” isn’t that. What it lacked for me was continuity. While the songs are recognisable as such, the ferocity is watered down and the kitsch elements, which were always part of it, have become detached and even threaten to clean up and take over from the dark and catchy fluidity of previous albums. That for me made this album difficult to get into.
(6/10 Andrew Doherty)