In the timeless words of Glenn T. Seaborg, one of the scientists responsible for discovering plutonium, “Holy shit, that’s heavy.”
Hitting play on Obscene Majesty for the first time is akin to what I imagine it would be like to experience a 600lb tiger pouncing on you from a boulder and then quickly sinking its jaws into your ribcage after pinning your miserable body to the earth with eight claws that might as well be bastard swords: staggering in its intenseness.
The extraordinarily barbaric story continues to unfold as the record moves forward. The good news: the tiger does not survive. The bad news: the tiger is beheaded by a grizzly bear that can only be described as “supernatural in its size and ferociousness.” The even worse news: the only thing more delicious than a paralyzed human to a supernatural grizzly bear is a paralyzed human smothered in spicy tiger blood.
The sheer weight, darkness and savagery behind Devourment’s delivery in 2019 is overwhelming, and the fact that the intensity level remains at a royal 11/10 level from minute one to the absolute last second shows a devotion by the band to ensure the tale does not simply end with your being eaten by an impossibly huge bear. A cruelly grinding song like “Narcissistic Paraphilia” is an ode to somehow remaining sentient inside guts while impossible waves of grizzly stomach acid and insufferable enzymes break down your flesh like roaring nuclear waste.
Plain language: Obscene Majesty introduced itself as a “holy shit moment.”
And hey, it’s (hopefully) fun to think about holy shit moments in heavy metal—those intervals where something you hear on a record causes the brain to pause everything in its surrounding environment and inform the chassis beneath it that things have shifted into a blissful sensory overload mode. Holy shit moments are significant enough to cause a person to remember the time and place where the event occurred, and even if the effect wanes over the years when revisiting the music, the album and band associated with that occasion will always hold a notable significance.
Since it’s the heart of the show here, let’s take a look at our ol’ pal death metal. If you’re anything like me—which is to say, old enough to have one foot in the grave and the other on a pile of freshly spilled giblets—you waltzed into death metal during its grotesque birth. Early works from the typical cast of characters you’ve heard about a billion times before set the foundation, and then Death very clearly tore open the floodgates. Holy shit moments were rampant during the formative years for death metal. Not exactly a news flash, considering the off-shoot’s freshness and thirst for pushing limits. Put the proverbial gun to my head and force a choice of only three “holy shit moment” records from each of the years spanning ’89-’91 and you will see me 1) mull over whether or not I’d be able to survive the shot, and 2) eventually concede the following:
• Autopsy – Severed Survival (Apr 24, 1989)
• Morbid Angel – Altars of Madness (May 12, 1989)
• Obituary – Slowly We Rot (June 14, 1989)
• Atheist – Piece of Time (Jan, 1990)
• Entombed – Left Hand Path (June 4, 1990)
• Deicide – Deicide (June 24, 1990)
• Immolation – Dawn of Possession (July 19, 1991)
• Suffocation – Effigy of the Forgotten (Oct 8, 1991)
• Death – Human (Oct 22, 1991)
(Sorry, Like an Everflowing Stream. Woof, that one smarts.)
The unfortunate contingence: the number of holy shit moments any one person experiences takes a dramatic dip as the years continue to pass. That doesn’t mean you won’t be wowed by new bands and new records, but getting truly leveled right from the gate to the point where you feel the need to take a step back and recalibrate becomes increasingly rare as the millionth carbon copy of a thousandth clone of a hundredth xerox floats across your speakers. But hey, when was the last time you said “I stopped eating pizza because I’m tired of it only being really good and not something so powerfully transcendent that it prompts me to shove a slice down the front of my pants.”
For vintage knuckle-draggers such as yours truly, relatively recent years (let’s go with the decade+ spanning 2008-2018) have been fairly frugal with true holy shit moments in pure death metal. An abundance of great releases, sure—death metal is doing very well for itself—but unparalleled head-loppers have been fewer and further between. Some devotees with more of a predilection toward progression might offer up modern releases from Morbus Chron or Horrendous, but alongside a reverent salute to notable demos from Chth’elist (Amechth’ntaas’m’rriachth: Aug, 2012) and Blood Incantation (Astral Spells: Mar, 2014), my personal votes would get marked beside the following three:
• Dead Congregation – Graves of the Archangels (Jan 30, 2008)
• Teitanblood – Seven Chalices (Mar 27, 2009)
• Gorguts – Pleiades’ Dust (May 13, 2016)
Which brings us back to Obscene Majesty.
If you’re the sort of greaseball who’s easily smitten by grim brutality, which clearly I am, you will find a new spirit animal in Devourment’s return to form for 2019. Obscene Majesty is as ridiculously ruthless and unyielding as a barbarian with alligators for arms punching its way through an army of juicy, defenseless sheep to get to a magical fountain of ale that never depletes. TO CRUSH YOUR ENEMIES, TO SEE THEM DRIVEN BEFORE YOU, AND TO FEED THESE ALLIGATORS FOR ARMS WITH SHEEP.
Devourment’s brand of brutality here is so accurate in its trajectory that it could almost be considered sophisticated. Brad Fincher’s drumming is phenomenal from start to finish: speed on the snare that hurtles like a plummeting rollercoaster, swift and clever cymbal play, and very often hitting like literal thunder in order to augment all those HULK SMASH riffs. And my lord, those riffs. The weight of an actual planet pounding your skull into powder, snorting said powder, and then riding off to the heavens to battle other planets. Just listen to the brain-punch that is “Cognitive Sedation Butchery.”
Are you fricken kidding me with that song? Is this band comprised of sasquatches? Are these actually mating songs for sasquatches? Unless one of your life goals includes getting skrogged by a sasquatch the size of a vending machine, maybe be careful about playing these songs while roaming the mountains of the Pacific Northwest. And “Cognitive Sedation Butchery” isn’t even the most crushing cut of the bunch! The groove that drops about 45 seconds into “Dysmorphic Autophagia” could carve a new Grand Canyon, but it’s somehow dwarfed by the impossibly cruel strut that hits about 2 minutes later. And electing to follow that abomination with “Sculpted in Tyranny” makes a clear case for forcing the label to include a hazmat suit with your purchase. Hey, setting loose a brain-collapsing virus ain’t no joke, Willy Nillies.
Is Obscene Majesty the best death metal album of the year? Of recent years? That depends entirely on what sort of elements you expect phenomenal death metal to deliver. 2019 has already exposed fans of the off-shoot to records that are more complex, more innovative and more…palatable, but there is absolutely none more brutal. Period. The modern interpretation of Devourment is beautifully relentless in its ferocity—the apex predator of intensity—and Obscene Majesty is very much the sort of record you’d kill to hand over to anyone interested in exploring extreme metal that’s capable of literally lopping off their head.
Purposely primitive and hell-bent to annihilate. Holy shit, indeed.