Sunday, April 7, 2013
After Oblivion - Stamina
After Oblivion's 2012 release, Stamina, rides on the heels of a couple of EP's which I'm sure impressed tons of people who believe that Chuck Schuldiner is still alive somewhere out there in much the same way that there are handfuls of near-geriatrics who believe Elvis still lives or that there were about nine hundred people in the state of New Jersey who voted for Jeff Boss with the believe that their vote was meaningful in any way other than a self-ridiculing and posturing action to get a rise out of friends. The issue is that, as several people have mentioned across the spectrum of reviews, is that to blatantly attempt at riding the legacy of one of the integral individuals of Death metal sets one up for failure and creates a situation where you are only compared to that incomparable entity. Not only does After Oblivion prove they are incapable of writing songs even a third as memorable as anything Death wrote after Human (which is where the brunt of their influence seems to lie) but instead of making an attempt at writing some original material that draws influence from the legacy of their idol, they alienate several groups of listeners that might have found After Oblivion a great band to embrace and grow with. How much can you progress if you've set yourself up to be a clone of something so specific such as "the later era Death albums" as their Last.fm profile proposes.
The album cover is an obviously drastic representation of what Schuldiner was obsessed with in the later years of his career - his well documented stance on pro-life. The fetus, still alive amongst a dead landscape crisscrossed with fragmentary fissures and the not-so subtle album title just hints at what lyrically is on display, whether conscious or not, in songs such as "Deliverance" or "Vultures." I approach this all cautiously, because I am not planning on engaging in a discussion on this topic in a review of some band from Bosnia and Herzegovina. After Oblivion continues to reap the wheat sown by Schuldiner years before by lifting song titles and notable phrases to fill in lyrical gaps. I find this really fascinating because what is happening here is that After Oblivion are continuing to add context and depth to material written before they even existed as a band or even thought the thoughts their lyrics are focused on. After Oblivion are in a sense engaging in a sort of reverse revisionism where they don't rewrite history but revise it like a footnote in the sixth edition of a long-out of date book.
This is all a shame really. Because After Oblivion are incredibly talented individuals. Incredible technical ability is as obvious as their influence. The mix perhaps doesn't do the band any favors in terms of humanizing their skill though. Drummer Marko Gacnik sounds more like a programmed entity instead of a human playing with incredible skill. The triggered drums mixed with the thin guitar tone equalize half the voices on the album. Bass player Haris Hasancevic is particularly impressive though when he isn't simply copying the rhythm lines of Adnan Hatic and Jasenko Dzipa. The album would have fared much better with a significantly heavier guitar tone. Adnan Hatic is credited with Producing and Mastering the album. He probably should have consulted with someone on the mix. The one instrument that sounds really great on the release however are the sporadic moments of clean guitars which are crystal clear, vibrant and lush. Adnan's vocals are obviously in the higher register of screechiness practiced by Schuldiner on the last four Death releases but a more precise comparison would be Tim Baker of Cirith Ungol, as far fetched as that may seem.
While the vast majority of the tracks are totally mediocre a few notable high points present themselves across Stamina's nine tracks. "Breeding Perdition" is the first moment when the acoustic guitars are clear and wonderful. The production on them is such that I am really left believing that Adnan actually wanted the guitars to sound so thin as an attempt to sound like Sound of Perserverance. Obviously as a producer and engineer he knows how to mic instruments. "For The Rebels" includes one of the stranger moments of the release with a short interlude of truncated guitar chugs and snare hits. The thinness of all these tones, the clackety drums, scratchy guitar tone and minimal low end is obvious here as well as in the intro to the title track, "Stamina" which propels one of the albums' worst moments, when beautiful natural sounding acoustic guitar is accompanied by the sound of a screwdriver being slammed against the kick drum head. It's actually the kick pedal, I've been told, but I don't believe it until I see it in person.
The most egregious error here, and a lesson which After Oblivion will hopefully learn, is that riffs, no matter how complicated, sound like crap if they are all based on the same premise and same rhythmic patterns. A lot of the rhythms on the album are what I, as a bassist, call pedal-tone riffs. Chugging on the open strings with intermittent single notes thrown in and occasional flurries of fill material to round off phrases before sections change. After three or four tracks I was pretty much burnt out already on this. For me, one track was enough to hear everything on the whole album. It just so happens that track was not on this album but on the Compendium of Metal Vol. 5 sampler which featured the opening track to Stamina, "Deliverance." It was obvious from a single track that After Oblivion were a one-trick pony. They don't have to be though. With their talent I would love to see what they could do with a beefier production and more originality. At this point, I doubt that they should worry about their influence showing and try and create something unique and memorable. That's what Chuck did throughout his career and why his legacy is undeniably secure.