Cynicism is a dangerous thing to give in to. That being said, it’s hard not to give in, and in the waning days of humanity (or, you know, just the shitty stretch of time we’re living in right now), the status quo machismo of metal doesn’t always hold water, so it’s hard not to blanket oneself in misery and despair. And not the self-loathing/shoegazing kind, but the writhing in agony variety. And sludge/doom collective Beneath Oblivion excel in this, providing a charred landscape of molten riffs on their appropriately histrionically-titled latest album, From Man to Dust. It’s a hard-to-digest bruiser, but despite its uninviting abrasiveness, it’s never superfluously obtuse or dull. It takes some easing into, but once there, it’s fascinating.

Through eight songs whose tempos vary from “sluggishly midpaced” to “a metronome notch above motionless,” From Man to Dust is a slow pan across the apocalypse, passively observing the horror therein. And really, this is a more interesting approach: while your Anaal Nathrakhs, Hate Eternals, Behmoths, and Deathspell Omegae take the point of view of the aggressor and pulverize you into nothingness, Beneath Oblivion are among the pulverized. The tempos are deliberately unhurried, which heightens the sense of endlessness torment. Unrolled over the span of seventy-five minutes (!), the album lumbers through erupting sludge riffs; agonized screaming, gargling, and growling; and hysterical (and often distorted) samples, up to and including a brilliantly drawn out air raid siren at the end of “Empire,” which hovers around in high pitched ambient noise for about a minute before sliding back down to a lower octave to reveal what it is. This is a great example of why From Man to Dust requires patience: not a lot happens in a minute, but over five to ten, it’s profound.

And this is the greatest strength of Beneath Oblivion: the ability to make a lot out of a relative little. In a genre as flogged-to-bones as sludge/doom (with a pinch of post-metal in there for good measure), I don’t know how in the fuck bands keep expecting to do something interesting with droning chords and time. But Beneath Oblivion find a way and subtly make it work. For most — myself included — seventy-five minutes of apocalyptic doom isn’t an everyday craving (the album’s nineteen-minute closing track is a bit much, just as Triptykon’s “The Prolonging” was), and can sound like the last few minutes of a Neurosis song stretched over an album. But when you are in the mood for it, even though all the riffs sound similar (minor key progression all stumbling their way back to a I chord), there’s something in them that makes it impossible to turn away. And From Man to Dust is a ballsy album in that respect: the songs don’t always work on their own, and the album is a task to get through all at once. But it’s meant to be consumed the latter way. Something this repulsive and time consuming should have been a masturbatory farce; instead, it’s a juggernaut. From Man to Dust is as nauseating as it is hypnotic, tapping into the part of your brain that knows you’re not supposed to look but can’t stop yourself.

(3 ½ out of 5 horns)


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