Special respect is due to bands who manage to strike a firm balance of the traditional and adventurous sides of black metal. Although recent years have seen a mutual understanding and appreciation between these two ‘schools’, it is less rare to hear a band that goes balls-out with avant-garde technique than to hear one who dares tempt extremity via more restrained means. With Slaves of the Vast Machine, I’m reminded of the straightforward blasting intensity of a band like Marduk: hateful, hellbent, and true to tradition. But this album also consists of a single, sprawling forty-five minute track, offering the coldly industrial undertones I could expect from one of the new wave.
Not that the comparison can extend so far, but I felt pretty quickly reminded of what Edge of Sanity did for Swedish melodic death metal with their masterpiece Crimson—the individual idea on that album probably wouldn’t have sounded too outlandish on a regular album, but the vast scope and progressive structure took their vision up a notch. I feel some of that same effect applies to Obitus here with Slaves of the Vast Machine. The twenty-plus years since Crimson have obviously upped the bar in terms of the sort of sheer ambition it takes to really impress, but there’s never going to be a point where a single sprawl of music like this won’t turn some heads.
Although no one structures a metal album in this way without wanting to draw direct attention to that aspect, Obitus are clever to evade the same typical progressive rock pretenses in the material itself. Slaves of the Vast Machine is consistently punishing and aggressive throughout, best seen as a collection of related movements than a singular composition. The music is largely defined by the incredibly martial, appropriately oppressive atmosphere. Through the coldly industrial tone of some of their riffs and the disciplined machine-gun rhythms, Obitus create a vivid sonic manifestation of totalitarianism. Given the misanthropic message on this album, as well as on the debut, 2009’s March of the Drones, it’s clear that Obitus wanted to convey the Orwellian boot on a human face. Suffice it to say that the only other metal band I’ve heard evoke such an authentic dystopia in their music is Chicago’s Kommandant; the two bands would find good company in one another.
The unrelenting violence and martial atmosphere on Slaves of the Vast Machine makes it stand out, far more than the track structure, which might have come off as a gimmick had they not backed it up with such fury. Truth be told, the album might have worked even better with several minutes shaved off the length; thirty-five minutes of unrelenting aggression can say as much as forty-five. The material isn’t quite consistent enough to justify its ambitious structure, and I was a bit let down when the album lacked the pummeling conclusion I was expecting from such a sprawling arrangement. With that said, however, imperfections and a less impressive second half have nothing on the album’s military atmosphere. The dystopia of the future is near, and Obitus are here to force-march their listeners to the bloody end.
01) Slaves of the Vast Machine