Obitus - Slaves of the Vast Machine - (9.5/10)
Published on February 25, 2017
Like the indoctrinating repetition of hypnopaedia or the self-fulfilling prophecies of unchecked Nietzschean philosophy, black metal can, in its own distinct way, hammer home its ideologies through sheer force. The beauty behind such a method is simple, really, and can be conveyed any number of ways but most often is distilled into succinct yet powerful memes: “The object of power is power,” “God is dead,” or “A love of nature keeps no factories busy.” Considering Obitus’ totalitarian lyrical stance within black metal, all these references convey with lethal accuracy what to expect from the band’s sophomore album, Slaves of the Vast Machine: a bleak and hopeless picture that, like the tyrannical vision of any dystopian dogma, mercilessly inculcates its violent message that only seems more “normal” the longer one is exposed to it.
Indeed, if there were ever a perfect platform for such an undertaking, a single 45-minute, monolithic track would be it, a pattern that follows the band’s 2009 debut, March of the Drones. Unlike that album, however, Obitus has refined its songwriting process to fully accommodate the format rather than form transitions that serve to essentially create individual “tracks.” It’s fitting, in fact, that Obitus has chosen this path, to effectively nullify any sense of individuality of track order and allow the album to stand as one unit (a One State of sorts), with all its components harmonized into a seamless entity.
Although the band claims inspiration from Orson Wells, I can’t help but recall Aldous Huxley as well, perhaps more so than anything else, actually, as the layers of self-indoctrinating repression are abundantly present. Force is indeed the vehicle through which the medium is delivered but the repetition, the subtleties that exist within this incessant framework, speak more of a systemized machine that seeks to forcibly induce you within its fold rather than “vaporize” any dissenters. Even Obitus’ lyrical patterns from their previous album tended to favor the methods of a Huxleyan world, the same repetition one encounters in black metal, the very recurrence of specific words and lines that tend to nip at your subconscious and find a home within your thoughts over due time. Like the haunting melody of the Solidarity Hymn, “It was not the ear that heard the pulsing rhythm, it was the midriff; the wail and clang of those recurring harmonies haunted, not the mind, but the yearning bowels of compassion.”
Considering this, then, it must be said that Obitus’ handle on black metal is decidedly precise and sharp as a razor, despite the lengthy 45-minute runtime. Riffs, like food rations, are not wasted; Obitus has a distinct talent at writing riffs that go the distance, which are all held together by structuring that follows a very simple yet effective format to build anticipation, climax (multiple times), and finally, to end violently, on a frenzied, noticeably faster pace than anywhere else found previously. In this way, yes, it might seem we’ve heard certain themes and riffs somewhere within the track…but did we, really? The swirling brutality that comprises the album is just too menacing and intimidating to feasibly bear, much less recall. So, we take it all in….again.
I can think of many similarly themed bands but none that achieves their vision as coherently as Obitus has. Slaves of the Vast Machine is not only the best track you will hear all year, but one of the best “albums.” Even towards the end, there is no reprieve; perhaps only stressed riffs that are intentionally dissonant at their apex but continue to assault, only to revisit previous themes, to remind you that, yes, the band knows they are too good not to use again. The moment at 42:10, as fleeting as it is, is truly where the end begins, but even at this accelerated flashpoint, is there ever truly an end? Obitus still sounds fresh and energetic as they did at the beginning and another 45 minutes of their constant battering would not seem too out of order. In fact, bring it on, Obitus, but please don’t make us wait another eight years.