Anyone who pays attention to breaking news about all things heavy will know why I'm giving this album a long-overdue relisten. The rumours had been flying around for weeks, the excitement building with every dropped hint, until the good folks at Roadburn had the decency to put everyone out of their misery, and announce that yes, they had infact managed to score an Obsessed reunion show for next year's fest.
I typed a whole paragraph about how excited I am to attend next year's Roadburn, before realising that whoever is reading this is probably already aware of how fucking ridiculously good the lineup is even at this early stage. If you're somehow completely unaware, ignorant, or just fucking stupid, check it out here:
I'll get the usual backstory bullshit out of the way with quickly so I can get into talking about the actual album.
I remember the first time I heard The Obsessed. Back when my main gateway to new music was purchasing metal magazines that came with free CDs (we're talking 2002 or something), I got one particular compilation that blew my mind. It was around the time that Dave Grohl's Probot project was finally being released, and to coincide with that, some publication had asked him to put together a comp of his favourite metal tracks. He'd gone for old-school tracks featuring all the guest singers he had gotten to sing on Probot, legends like Cronos, Tom G Warrior, Lee Dorrian, King Diamond... look it up already, I'm not going to list all of 'em! Basically, this was my gateway into real metal. This shiny little disc, given away free, and probably discarded by most buyers, changed my life.
In the space of an hour, I heard Cathedral's groovey take on doom, I heard Celtic Frost's abrasive, decaying, primal guitar tone, I had my ears blasted by DRI and early Corrosion of Conformity, fell about laughing at the piercing screams of the King in Mercyful Fate, was creeped out by an early Trouble track... but one song stood out.
Enough said, right? If you want to know what it was like to be me as a teenager, track down an old portable CD player, grab a skateboard, and play this track on repeat as you skate back and forth in your shitty local park's leaf-strewn bowl. It suits it perfectly. Anyway, enough of this fucking rose-tinted nostalgia shit...
The Obsessed went through many line-ups, to the point where there can't be many people in the world that Wino HASN'T been in a band with at some point, but the one that is reforming for Roadburn is the band that recorded the last Obsessed album, The Church Within. I'll admit that it's definitely the album I've paid the least attention to, even out of their limited discography, but since it's highly likely that I'll be witnessing many of these tracks played live in about six months, I better familiarise myself with 'em!
Since this is a tape, and I'm lazy, circumstance dictates that I must listen to side B first.
Which is more than okay with me, because it kicks off with what probably counts as the band's biggest song (there's a video and everything!), Streetside. This song is pretty standard fare, a swinging backbeat rythm, some guitar noodling, y'know, the stuff that a million other songs are made of, but it's Wino's instantly recognisable, soulful vocals that set it apart.
The next track, Climate Of Despair begins solidly enough, but towards the end it descends into this rich, deep organ sound, which is fine with me, I fucking love me some hammond organ. It picks back up again before a pretty abrupt end.
This album was recorded in '94 by some fucking idiot named in the credits as 'MC Snoob', which doesn't bode well for the production. In the case of side two, track three, this rears it's ugly head. I struggle to find a single album of any genre, except maybe some rap stuff, recorded in the '90s which doesn't sound fucking terrible in terms of production techniques. Prove me wrong?
Anyway, this track, Mourning, is swathed in some terrible echo-y delay effect on EVERY instrument. The cymbals that introduce the song sound like water balloons bursting, and Wino's usual rich timbre is reduced to sounding like Mr fucking Roboto. I really cannot recommend it at all.
If you want to hear the track as it was probably originally intended, check it out on the 'Incarnate' compilation.
Things get back to normal on the next song, Touch Of Everything, which makes you wonder why they decided to fuck with the previous track so much? Not even the worst drugs in the world woud lead to such bizarre decision-making. This song is another solid effort, if a little average. If I strain my ears, I can just about hear what I think is more organ underpinning the guitar/bass/drums. Again, I bemoan the production/mix of this record.
I'm not normally one for paying too much attention to lyrics, but one particular couplet grabs my attention:
'Cause living day-to-day gets downright obscene
I need a touch of everything
We've lost touch of everything...'
Which brings to mind the same sentiment he bellows in Saint Vitus' 'Born Too Late', that of a man out of place in the world. Which, to be a total cliche about it, is something I can relate to. So that merits another listen of this track.
The rest of the second side passes by pleasantly enough, but despite normally being a rabid fan of everything Wino puts his name to, I just don't feel too attached to this album by the time it ends.
But then I remember that it hasn't ended at all! Side A, work your magic...
To Protect And Serve struts out of the speakers, a swaggering, swinging ode to law enforcement, which some ambiguous lyrics leave my wondering if it's Anti or Pro police? Either way, this is awesome.
Field Of Hours opens with some horrible bass tone, before mercifully being obscured when the guitar and drums begin. Not much interesting to say about this track. Or any of the others that follow it to make up the rest of side A. What is definitely apparent to me is that I definitely prefer early Obsessed. Such a cliche, but it's usually true: their earlier stuff was better.
This tracks ain't BAD by any means, they just sounds a little... sluggish, compared to what made me fall in love with the original incarnation of the band. Overlong tracks, which is an unusual thing to complain about within the realms of the doom/stoner genre, but when they're played at a relatively midpaced to fast tempo, they just seem to drag on forever.
I really hope that just because it's the Church Within lineup playing Roadburn, that doesn't mean they'll do that horrible reformation trick of sticking to playing just a 'classic' album all the way through. Because as solid a record as it is, The Church Within sure ain't a classic album.