From Man To Dust is the second album from Cincinnati, Ohio’s Beneath Oblivion, and it offers more than ample evidence that the Rust Belt remains a potent source of crippling rage and desperation. All in a good way, of course. Beneath Oblivion’s punishing doom assault is an unflinching treatise on sonic overload, and as such will likely (and likely by design) try the patience of all but the most masochistic sludge fiends. It is not so much an album to be dissected for particularly noteworthy riffs or surprising songwriting flourishes, but rather an album to be hit in the face with, repeatedly, relentlessly, forever. Which is to say, From Man To Dust is a suffocating monolith of sludge metal played with all the frivolity of funeral doom.
The constituent pieces of Beneath Oblivion’s sound are easy enough to identify: guitar riffs and twinned bass underpinnings that exploit an economy of notes at tempos ranging from a loping Sabbath swing to a casket-dragging Evoken plod, patient but effective drumming that excels at keeping end-of-measure fills fresh without becoming over-flashy, and vocals that cluster around the pained shriek range, but occasionally plunge into rasped guttural lows. A noisy (and slightly overlong) intro leads directly into “Atomic Mother,” which is introduced by a fitting sample that might well serve as the band’s mission statement: “There are no civilians; we are all at war.” Moments of lightness are few and far between in this claustrophobic brew, like the brief pause for breath in the middle of “Empire,” or the morose creeping to a close of “Atomic Mother.” As such, the relatively delicate opening few minutes of “Barren Earth” are a very welcome break. “Be My Destroyer” replicates the structure of “Barren Earth” almost exactly, however, diluting the power of an otherwise excellent song when taken on its own terms.
A reasonable comparison might be drawn to Eyehategod’s pioneering nihilism, except that where EHG deconstructs the primordial spirit of the blues to reveal a scab-covered, needle-pricked ugliness, Beneath Oblivion actually seems to spend most of its time expanding on some pretty basic – and often almost pretty – hypnotic modal grooves. “Barren Earth,” for example, mostly tracks between two primary chords, and the crashing and careening from one to the other produces a warm catharsis, while the waspish vocals and constant sheen of feedback work at keeping things ugly and distant. It’s a contrast that works dialectically, constantly pulling the listener from cradling warmth to cold abandonment, producing a nice tension.
It also needs to be said that From Man To Dust is almost inarguably too long, clocking in at a towering 76 minutes. Of course, one can certainly argue that the length of the album is all part of the band’s strategy to completely overwhelm the listener. That’s certainly a valid aesthetic choice, but I can’t quite shake the feeling that, given how dense and unrelenting the band’s attack is throughout the album, trimming a good thirty minutes or so would have produced the same effect but also invited more return listens. At its current run-time, a full listening session is an almost debilitating experience. Particularly in light of Indian’s Guiltless, which pursues the same strategy of total auditory overload but accomplishes its task in a tight forty minutes, a more ruthless editor would have served this album well.
Nevertheless, the band’s finest moment probably arrives with the nearly twenty-minute long title track that closes out the album. The final section of “From Man To Dust” benefits greatly from the subtle underlining of its riff-heaving by both organs and a strange squealing effect that sounds more than anything like a train car about to jump its track. Despite its imperfections, Beneath Oblivion has produced an album that revels in the massive wall of filth it creates, and more often than not, the listener can’t help but be sucked in, chewed up, and spat out.