An incomplete list of things I do not particularly enjoy:
– The Doors
– Toxic masculinity and systemic racism
An incomplete list of things I very much enjoy:
– Literally all other vegetables
– Technical death/thrash
It’s a peculiar balance sheet, but friends, it’s been a peculiar year. Minneapolis’s Obsolete, thankfully, hit such a beautiful sweet spot of technical death/thrash that the cautious listener will have no need to worry about lighting anyone’s fire or breaking on through to any other shitty side. Animate//Isolate is a picture-perfect thirty-five minutes of the snappiest, grinning-est, rippingest death metal you’re likely to thank groggily for knocking your teeth out this year.
Album opener “Still” wastes very little time establishing the mold: whiplash thrashing transitions, death metal intensity that nevertheless stays light on its toes, and a ferocious sense of sly melody. Just listen to how the short but searingly plaintive solo late in the song is followed by a full band leveling up of the main theme, with the cymbal crashes subtly goosing the whole game on. The breakneck speed of “Callousness of Soul” unfolds into a section of mathy syncopation later in the song, while a song like “Old Horizon” actually sees the band getting quite groovy and almost tipping into funk.
The style that Obsolete has tapped into on this exemplary album is hardly novel, but it also happens to be the case that the lightning in a bottle sound they’re so lovingly making their own could stand for far more acolytes than the latest Bolt Thrower or Swedeath retread. Animate//Isolate owes its thrills to that brilliant mixture of thrash technicality and death metal intensity that, ahem, animated the high watermarks from Atheist, Cynic, Pestilence, Sadus, Death, early Gorguts, and others in that mold. Obsolete extends the template even further by adding no small measure of the eerie, evil melody of early Slayer and just a touch of the sideways wrongness of Voivod.
For as overwhelmingly precise and technical as the album is, however, what impresses most is how ruthlessly focused it is: only one track breaks the five-minute mark, and most of the time they’re focused on packing as many riffs as possible into a three-and-a-half to four-minute stretch. The thick, throaty rasp of the vocals occasionally sounds a bit like Enslaved’s Grutle at a half-octave-lower register, but here and there (as on the closer), there’s also a touch of Chuck Schuldiner.
Animate//Isolate is extremely strong throughout, but it truly reaches the stratosphere on the thrilling mid-album tandem of “Silent Freeway” and “Stumbling and Listless.” “Silent Freeway” has some of the most wildly tight riffing, opening at a truly punishing speed, and then pulling back for some halftime, evil Slayer-sounding licks in the midsection before careening into a dual guitar harmony near the end that nods a bit to prime feral Megadeth. Fitting for a band taking such direct inspiration from the early 90s, the bass guitar on Animate//Isolate plays a hugely central role throughout (much as Tony Choy or Steve DiGiorgio did for Atheist/Cynic/Pestilence and Sadus/Death, respectively), and on “Stumbling and Listless” it actually takes the lead role for the first minute and a half or so, while the guitar shades the outlines of the bass’s melody figure.
Any complaints or hesitations about Animate//Isolate are miniscule and easily overlooked. The opening of “The Slough” is just a touch too sing-songy (and although the title is surely clouding my impressions, that sing-songy intro could pretty easily have been lifted from a Lord Weird Slough Feg song), but the tidy little breakdown that kicks in around 1:15 easily recovers. And… well, that’s really about it. The production is perfectly matched for the style, with the bass and drums given a thick, sinewy presence, alternately booming with space and pummeling up close, while the two guitars are sharp, separated, and often allowed to soar as they solo with something that sometimes almost touches on the cosmic yearning of Sarpanitum or Mithras.
More than any other qualifier or comparison, though, Animate//Isolate is just one goddamned hell of a lot of fun. Each and every member of the band plays with an overwhelmingly technical command of their instrument, and yet the songs never feel like exercises in academic abstraction. Job one throughout Animate//Isolate is to rip and shred like hell, play as fast as you can and then try to push it faster still, and then get out before overstaying your welcome. Are they yelling about “the scent of cut grass” on album closer “Intercostal”? Who cares, because they’re having a great time doing it. This is good music for thinking deep thoughts, and it’s good music for punching a cow in the shoulder and getting trampled. Oh, and “The Fog” ends on the exact same staccato pattern as “Hallowed Be Thy Name.”
You know why? Because heavy metal is just fucking great. Obsolete knows it, and Animate//Isolate is so good that even that dumb goddamn cow you so rudely punched in the shoulder can’t help but know it now, too.