CD Review: Arisen Upon Oblivion

Artist: Unfathomed Abyss
Album: Arisen Upon Oblivion
Released: October 2014
Reviewed by: Christopher Zoukis

Black metal music is usually grouped under the umbrella heading of heavy metal music, with the caveat that black metal is a "radical" subdivision of the genre. It is characterized by wailing guitars, screaming vocals, and rapid cadence. Heavy make-up, also known as "corpse paint," is favored by practitioners of black metal. It's sometimes referred to as "Gothic death metal." For those never exposed to it, try to imagine the Deftones or possibly Tool amped up on crystal meth -- then hit fast-forward. That will give potential listeners some idea of what to expect. Or think of it this way: death metal sounds the way Marilyn Manson looks.

The band under discussion here is Unfathomed Abyss, which is basically one person, Kevin Price, who does it all: bass, guitars, vocals, arrangements, engineering, and album artwork. The exception on the album are the drums, performed by Kevin Talley, drummer for Daath; he's without equal when it comes to sheer speed. Talley is nothing short of blazing on this album, although it's sometimes difficult to discern exactly what he's doing underneath the sheer sonic punch of the arrangements, which alternate between severely layered motifs and the sublimely simple chords of a single piano or synthesizer.

The overall theme of the latest album, Arisen Upon Oblivion, is apocalyptic horror of Biblical proportions. Imagine if the worst parts of the latter chapters of the book of Revelation occurred at the creation of the universe, rather than at Armageddon. Death, violence, hatred, love, and light all mingled together in one vast, chaotic mess. Obviously, Price is trying to articulate the almost ecstatic pain of the transitory nature of human life. His vocalizations resemble snarling howls more than conventional lyrics. It's as if his voice fails to translate into words the emotions he feels. He is reduced to mutterings and groaning that, even though seemingly without meaning, convey the passion whirling like a hurricane in his mind.

The opening track, called "To Unequal the Balance of the Cosmos," eats up 14 minutes. The song starts off with wailing, distorted guitars that subside into a soft piano akin to country club bar music. Before long, the garbled guitars soar into their dissonant dance once again. In its entirety, the song smacks of a 1930s Bella Lugosi movie soundtrack; it's Gothic music on steroids and cocaine.

The best track and the one that comes closest to true Black Metal is "To Nothing." Probably because the song more closely approaches to what most people think of as "music." It's less impenetrable, not quite as ambitious in its complexity, and not nearly as lavish in its twelve-note dissonance. In short, it's not as disturbing as the rest of the songs. Of course, it is assumed that Price's overall goal is to evoke perturbation, so in that sense, "To Nothing" might be perceived as anemic as regards the album's intention.

All in all, Arisen Upon Oblivion delivers beau coup gloom and doom, but perhaps not enough heavy metal for die-hard Black Metal aficionados. Still, Price is to be congratulated on the ambition of his project. With just a little more rock 'n' roll, and a little less emphasis on the "black" of Black Metal, he'd have nailed it.

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