RareNoise Records appears to be mining a rich seam of music at the moment. The label behind the new Metallic Taste Of Blood album also includes Obake on its roster. As well as sharing a record label, the two bands also share personnel, guitarist Eraldo Bernocchi and drummer Balazs Pandi both with a foot in each camp. And what of the other musicians in Obake? Well, bass player Massimo Pupillo is also a member of Zu, a math-rock trio; while singer Lorenzo Esposito Fornasari is a composer and member of the trio Owls.
The band is named after a mystical Japanese creature, an Obake, which roughly translates as a kind of shape shifter or ghost. It’s a name well chosen to represent the band’s music which continually moves between forms, using some styles which are recognisable, and others which are not so recognisable, to produce a fascinating and challenging musical experience.
Obake is ostensibly doom metal; the first two songs – “Human Genome Project” and “Dog Star Ritual” – feature super heavy instrumentation and sinister, almost whispered vocals. All of this is combined with unusual, unexpected sounds: shrieking guitar, electronica and surprising pauses in the drone-like, insistent progress of the songs. If the rest of the album followed this template, it could be regarded as an experimental doom metal album, with enough going on to justify itself as a fine addition to the canon. In reality, it’s substantially more than that; the first two songs are undeniably heavy and slow. But after that it becomes even more interesting.
“The End Of It All” features a haunting vocal passage set against a background of swirling winds; different vocal styles are used during the song, the doom motif carried by bass and drums. At times the levels are set right on the edge of distortion, as vocals and guitar battle with blast beats to be heard within the maelstrom of noise. The band appears to be as interested in the sounds they produce, as they are in the actual production of them.
The drums on “Szechenyi” are so full of energy they could be a solo, while the quieter passages are broken up by thunderous bass, clean guitar and ethereal, electronic sounds. This song and the atmospheric, beautiful “Letters to Ghosts” provide a quieter, almost ambient central point to the album, although even in these more introspective moments, it’s clear that the prospect of heaviness is never far away. That is proved beyond doubt with “Ponerology”, which returns to a much heavier style. At times, thanks to the extreme guitar sounds, it’s actually quite a difficult listen.
It’s an album that surprises at every turn, providing variation, colour and interest. “The Omega Point” has a groove to it, and singer Lorenzo Esposito Fornasari explores several vocal styles, all thoroughly engaging and in keeping with the surrounding instrumentation. “Destruction Of The Tower” is a return to powerful, heavy doom metal; while “Endocrine Pineal Gland” has a haunting, ambient structure. The final song, “Grandmother Spider”, sounds in many ways like an improvised piece as Obake free themselves of genre conventions and simply follow their musical inspiration. It’s an exciting, almost dangerous climax to a remarkable album.
Obake’s self-titled album, then, is doom metal, avant-garde, electronica, improvisation, at times even operatic. It’s also much more than the sum of its parts; occupying experimental ground, never quite delivering what you expect and all the better for it. Obake is a must if you want to be challenged by your music, and if you enjoy the sound of musicians challenging themselves.