The last time I checked in on German heavyweight doomsters Obelyskkh was in 2017 for their fourth album, The Providence. Having covered several previous releases: Mount Nysa (2011), White Lightnin’ (2012) and the awesome Hymn To Pan in 2013, the band had introduced bassist Seb Duster and produced one of their strongest works to date.
Since the slimming of the ranks following the departure of guitarist Stuart West, the remaining trio of Steve Paradise (drums), Crazy Woitek (guitars/vocals) along with the aforementioned Seb Duster (bass) have regrouped and considered their future direction. Deciding to remain as the numerically efficient power trio meant some revision of the writing and for The Ultimate Grace Of God they channelled the punk attitude and DIY spirit of their early days and embraced noise-rock influences, drawing on the likes of The Jesus Lizard and Melvins to add to the existing sound.
What this means for The Ultimate Grace Of God (the name of which was supposedly partially inspired by a run down but still surviving hair salon in Antwerp) is the morphing of the band’s previously melodic, dense and more traditional doom sound. Not that you would guess from the wind like swirling and child’s voice that ushers in the pummelling riff and crashing drums of opener Aquaveil that drown in layers of thick fuzz, however when the strangled vocals of Woitek erupt from the speakers, the music shifts to a lumbering more hardcore like style.
This grimy freakout continues with multiple vocals styles; spoken word, howls, nasal intonations, screams and bellows echo throughout the track, whilst the music constantly shifts to match. One minute the band are locked into a tight groove and the next, they lurch into tumbling passages of violence.
The dirty sounding bass of Duster heralds into a mellow breakdown before it grows sublimely in stature recalling some of the more psychedelic moments and space rock leanings of their back catalogue. The track spans a robust eight and a half minutes and still feels like Obelyskkh have crammed a huge amount of music into a short space of time.
The stuttering drums of the title track are pure noise-rock as the band warm up with an angular and off kilter introduction before they settle into a steady groove. Listening to it I was reminded of Word As Law era Neurosis with furious vocal shouts and constant punky/hardcore dropouts.
Obelyskkh embrace their new direction wholeheartedly as they surrender to the abrasive style, populated by the Amphetamine Reptile label roster in the ‘nineties ’90s before they throw another curveball and the track switches to a luscious mellow clean sounding guitar lead harmony and solo. As delicate and tender as the previous assault wasn’t, this moment of calm is used to further evolve into a beautiful solo backed by mid-range and a melodic classic rock feel to close.
One minute the band are locked into a tight groove and the next, they lurch into tumbling passages of violence…
Following this, the hammer on anvil faster clank of Black Mother breaks the peaceful ambiance with a buzz sawing guitar that wouldn’t be out of place on a Crowbar album before it becomes a far more evil sounding affair. Jam packed with menace and unsettling breaks the track writhes and snarls with overlap shouts before charging into a huge rhythmic bounce.
Afterlife, the second longest track, brings back the slow building atmosphere and thoughtful guitar work that disintegrates into a moody doom vibe. As with all the songs on the album, it doesn’t remain settled for long before it breaks into a ferocious clattering attack full of twists and turns.
Similarly, Universal Goddess runs the gamut of styles in a shorter more considered manner, adding uncomfortable feedback whining and moments of blackened savagery. Once more it feels like so many shifts take place over the course of the run time, that, at times, it’s hard to keep up with what the band might throw at you next.
What they do give you is the (comparatively) straightforward Dog Headed God. Built around a snaking and urgent refrain they return to again and again, despite the nihilistic detours they seem bound to on this release, anchors you in the lyrical musings. As with all their preceding albums there is an air of misanthropic distaste for the world, but here the band seem to gleefully revel in it as all the intonations and yelped chorus lines hammer home the fact that life is a churning march through struggle and all Gods are fallible. The added maddening electronic effects teeter on the edge of the insane, almost whimsical like everything around is falling into childish decay.
Saving the most grandiose for last, the punishing near seventeen minutes of Sat Nam [Vision] begins with a cavernous drone, overlaying the sound with what my friend tells me is drug consumption, before they fire up into a rolling avant-garde trip that is a crazy left turn into territory I would normally have associated with late era System Of A Down. The stabbing, start/stop dynamic accentuates the lyrical assertion of ‘The way, the light, the truth’ in a manner that reveals exactly none of these things, before this warped spiritual ride turns to the chimed bowls and chanting of the title before moving to keys and looped beats.
They are not content to leave you with any kind of resolution or peace though and after the vocals get nasty again, the track drifts off into an uneasy conclusion, seemingly mellow but like survivors viewing the aftermath of some epic catastrophe.
To be honest on first, and repeated listens, I had no idea what I was consuming; the, expertly handled, recording balances the kitchen sink levels of instrumentation that occur, stopping the stylistic changes driving their refined ability into the inaudible. The Ultimate Grace Of God is a rebirth for the band that should contain enough to appeal to the older fans (after the initial shock) and inspire new followers with its twists and turns.
Scribed by: Mark Hunt-Bryden