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Oblivion Are Called to Rise, But Only Manage to Stand Up

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Over the last several years, death metal has become a pissing contest. Innovation is king, as long as the music maintains the qualities – rapid-fire drums paired with virtuosic guitars and searing production – that make modern death metal, modern death metal. Bay Area-based Oblivion are a group of talented, experienced musicians, and although we get a few cool slabs on Called to Rise, the band unfortunately fall into the all-too-common trap of producing homogenous, unfocused death metal.

Called to Rise is by no means a bad album. The production is crisp, guitarists Ted O’Neill and Victor Dods shred, and Nick Vasallo’s varied vocal range is more textured than most cookie monsters. Drummer Luis Martinez, sculpts furious fills. The band members obviously know what they’re doing musically, as if their essay-length resumes hadn’t made that clear enough. The best track on the album, “Reclamation,” is particularly well executed, from its technical introduction to the crushing Suffocation-esque breakdown and the dancing interchanges in the outro.

The band’s supergroup status is palpable, but it also feels like these musicians are relying on experience, reputation, and chops to write an album. Those factors alone don’t add up to intriguing songs.  The outro of “Reigns in Fire” is a good example of the uninspired songwriting. Straight notes on the double kicks overlay a disparate guitar pattern in a way that sounds like the band didn’t spend enough time working on it, rather than in a way that allows the parts to complement each other. The album was written before former All Shall Perish guitarist Ben Orum joined the band, but it clearly could have used some of the flair Orum’s songs with ASP displayed. Called to Rise washes over listeners without making much of an imprint.

Oblivion’s self-labeling as “blackened technical post-death metal” is a sign that the band is at least subconsciously aware that they’re trying to do too much. Despite a few interesting qualities, Oblivion’s Called to Rise is nothing new. Oblivion dabble instead of diving in, briefly touching on melody and experimentation in a clear attempt to diversify their music without bothering to fully develop those touches. Chords are introduced, then ignored; the atmospheric qualities in the two-part filler saga “Oblivion” are largely absent from the other, generic tracks.

To be fair, many recent releases have set the bar for death metal unimaginably high. Called to Rise can probably satisfy your casual hankering for wankery or your sudden impulse to mosh. But I won’t reach for Called to Rise when I want snarling, roller-coaster technicality, and I won’t pick it up when I want fresh, unpredictable death metal. A band doesn’t suddenly become “blackened” through the use of chords, and they’re not suddenly “post-metal” if they create some small amounts of atmosphere. Maybe if Oblivion focused less on the number of terms to add to their genre tag and focused more on composition, Called to Rise would be more worth their – and our – time. Bang your head, once or twice.

Oblivion’s Call to Rise is out now. You can stream the track “Reclamation” here and purchase the album here.

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