Hell Obelisco - Swamp Wizard Rises - (7.5/10)
Published on April 21, 2018
Some bands are well know for the huge production work applied to their records, with multidimensional albums made of countless layers of music, painstakingly put together to great (or bummer) effect. Well, you can rest assured this won’t be the case with Hell Obelisco’s records at all. This is a super-group of sorts, formed by members or ex-members of many respectable groups from Italy’s underground scene (Evilgroove, Monumentum, Schizo, Iconoclast and Maleficarum, to name a few) that thought it would be cool to join forces in a brand-new sludgy metal proposition. “Swamp Wizard Rises” is their debut CD, and they make their intentions clear in no uncertain terms, right from the start: “Voodoo Alligator Blood”, the song chosen to open proceedings, is as groovy as it is straightforward, with simple song structure and powerful riffs aplenty. No fluffy intros, no delicate interludes, no bullshit: just a rough-and-ready, stripped down display of sheer energy and bite.
There are fair doses of stoner and early doom metal in the band’s music, but it’s mostly no-nonsense sludge metal with generous references to early 1990-s Southern metal / groovy thrash. In fact, and ignoring all the most contemporary groups/scenes that could be mentioned, I’ll stick my neck out and say the strongest reference point I was able to think of is none other than Pantera, most of all their “Far Beyond Driven” and The Great Southern Trendkill” days. I’m sure Dimebag Darrell would be happy to call some of Hell Obelisco’s riffs his own (that’s quite a compliment, lads), and singer Andrea Zanetti surely had Phil Anselmo as a role model when deciding to pursue a career in music. Still, these Italians are nowhere near a carbon-copy: there’s a lot of early Mastodon going on as well, and some of the dirtiest moments vaguely resemble early death metal (“Biting Killing Machine” even reminds me of prime-era Obituary at their most doom-tinged). Curiously, the whole album was recorded without a dedicated bassist: instead, the band used a stardard 6-string and a low-tuned 7-string guitars to fulfill their fuzzy, riff-driven vision.
There’s something of a live feel in the way this album was recorded and mixed: albeit undeniably done in a professional manner, the final result sounds like a band rehearsing in a small studio, going from one number to the next without making much of a song and dance about it. “Earth Rage Apocalypse” is the only tune that actually sets the mood before launching, with something of a radio transmission warning the hapless listener of impending doom. It’s actually one of the best compositions here featured IMO, with nice storytelling about Earth getting tired of mankind and trying to spit us all out towards space, or something. Most songs deal with supernatural and/or horror movie themes BTW, something that adds to the entertaining side of their music. Apart from the aforementioned tracks, give a more careful listen to “Escaping Devil Bullets” (even the cowbell sounds cool on this one, believe it or not) and “Dead Dawn Duel”, two very strong moments where Hell Obelisco’s many influences seems to merge in the most forceful manner.
Some may argue “Swamp Wizard Rises” brings nothing new to the table, and it’s a fair enough assessment, though I think such criticism misses some of the point in Hell Obelisco’s music. The group’s statement may not be groundbreaking or revolutionary, but it’s surely very honest and down-to-earth: we are Hell Obelisco, this is our music and we’ll play it like there’s no tomorrow every single time. These guys couldn’t care less about innovation: it’s all about passion through and through, and it’s reassuring to hear seasoned musicians just doing their thing for the sheer hell of it. If you’re partial with some no-nonsense, ferocious sludge metal in your spare time, you should definitely give this one a try.