We’re not quite at the ‘albums of the year’ stage yet, but when we are, Oblivionized’s Life is a Struggle, Give Up will be featured prominently. From their earliest demos onwards, the band has epitomised the vital UK underground extreme music scene, with a series of always high-quality releases varying from dirty, chaotic grindcore to extremely technical death metal and I have been lucky enough to be writing about the band since those early days, mostly for Zero Tolerance magazine. Back in April I caught up with one third of the band for Pun-Based Name Pending and below is (a slightly revised version of) what came of it:
It’s always* nice to watch a band grow and evolve and although Oblivionized have just released their first album Life is a Struggle, Give Up, it’s the culmination/distillation of five years or so of progress and transformation that has seen the band go from the powerful, technical death metal-infused grindcore of their earlier work to something looser, less metal, more intuitive and distinctive, far harder to define, but no less intense.
*disclaimer; if they are any good it’s nice. Otherwise it’s annoying.
The band’s history is short enough that it’s fairly easy to track down all of their work to date; it’s totally worth doing that. discography
The style the band has arrived at since shrinking to a trio in 2012 isn’t very much like any other band I can think of. Drums/guitar/vocals sounds like a pretty skeletal basis for an album, but the concentration on these components gives the music a sparse, elemental feel and an emotional impact that matches the harsh minimalism of the lyrics. On earlier releases the technical skill of Sammy Urwin (also of death metal band Regurgitated Life etc) was often used in a powerful but fairly conventional (riffs/solos) way and the songs seemed to be carefully composed for maximum dynamic impact – which was very effective. On Life Is A Struggle though, the technical aspect (though no less impressive) seems less to do with killer riffs and heaviness than with an almost jazz-like telepathic intensity, comparable in a way to Painkiller circa Guts of a Virgin, but with a more personal/introspective focus. The album perfectly captures the live sound the band showcased on last year’s This is S.O.A.N. split with Razoreater, losing none of the immediacy of the live tape, but giving everything more precision and a sharper impact.
It’s been quite a long wait for a full-length Oblivionized album, but it definitely feels like now is the right time for it, do you feel like this is the Oblivionized lineup for the foreseeable future? Was this the first time you ever wanted to record an album?
I’d say this is the third album me and Sammy have written for Oblivionized. Before Abhorrent Evolution (2011) Geoff (Bradley, guitarist), Sammy and myself over the course of nine months or so, demoed a twelve track album in my room. We turned the best from those demos into four songs when Jon and Phil joined and recorded them and released as Abhorrent Evolution. With that five piece line up we wrote nine, maybe ten songs for an album, we demoed two of them and released that as Nullify The Cycle… That album obviously never happened and I’m happy it didn’t. I realised recently that I haven’t been doing music just for fun, I enjoyed hanging out with my mates putting demos on myspace and going to gigs and that, but I’ve turned expressing myself through music it into my life. Being able to express myself honestly, not just screaming negative fantasies, or telling people how fucked the world is… which it is, lets be honest, we’ll likely all be dead in twenty years if that. But actually making something that I can be proud of and feel is an honest representation of what this is. So basically, if all the music we wrote, people’s lives we’d been part of, positive and negative experiences we have had as a band and individuals during our time together hadn’t happened, neither would Life Is A Struggle, Give Up… I don’t know what I’m trying to say anymore but I think I said it.
The title is great because it can be read as super-negative or actually positive, listening to the album it kind of feels like both; very bleak and angry but at the same time full of passion and energy, what would you say is the overall feel or theme?
I spent a lot of time trying to make sure I wasn’t telling anyone what to do or how to think, I’m not interested in that, so you can take them how you like. For me the album expresses exactly how I felt while writing it; simply put, life is really hard and I’ve wanted give up, just become what other people expect or want me to be. I chose not to and decided I’d live for myself, nothing matters anyway, so why give a fuck about other people and their opinions if the end result is your unhappiness.
One of the things that is really noticeable about the album is the way each element of the music has the same importance/focus, is that easier to do that as a three-piece band than it was in the past?
That is something Will bought to the band, in the past we’d had bass that was kind of an accompaniment, with guitars that played separate parts, make things more dissident but we’d made the drums all blasting and double kick. When Will joined and we became a three piece, Oblivionized became three different personalities working towards something.
You tour and play live a lot, was it important to produce an album that captures the sound you have live?
We don’t want to create much on record that we can’t recreate live as just a three piece. We recorded drums with just Sammy and Will playing together, no click track, no triggers or drum replacement, just take for take. Sammy then recorded his guitar parts and I did my vocals last, Tom (Corrupt Moral Altar, Vagrant Recordings) added some singing bells to I Pity You and Justine (Employed To Serve) did some extra vocals on Your Mouth Is A Wound, besides that it’s just us three in a playing music in a room.
Secret Law records seem to be doing a really good job of promoting the album, how did you come to sign to the label?
Will was just hanging out with his mate Tom and Tom was most likely saying “bro I might start a metal label” and Will probably said something like “yeah that’d be rad dude, my band has an album no other labels want to release!” and it just snowballed from there, Ed and Tom are fucking on it, they’ve picked up Desert Storm and they just picked up a new band called Funeral Pact who are rad.
Do you have as much control and involvement in all the aspects of making and promoting the album as you did when you were putting things out yourselves?
We still do all the same stuff, we just have some mates working with us now. It’s good to be part of something like Secret Law Records where we are working together to get something heard.
I’m sure the music is carefully worked out etc, but compared to your older work it has a kind of explosive, spontaneous quality, almost like free jazz, is there any element of improvisation in the way you write songs together?
Some songs were written with all three of us in a room bouncing ideas off each other, basically pushing a song in different directions until it met a conclusion, others were Sammy bringing ideas to me and Will, or Sammy and Will bringing ideas to me. After I’d improve vocals until I knew what the song was about. More simply put, It’s all just ideas and things that happened, musically and lyrically.
A related question; I’m not sure which are the newer and older songs on the album, but it seems like the band has gotten a bit looser and less rigid over the past couple of years, would you agree?
Before Geoff (Bradley, now of Atonement) left the band, he said something along the lines of “it’s time Oblivionized stopped writing shredding guitar exercises and started writing songs.” So that’s what we did, weird avant-garde jazz grind songs, or something.
One of the things I really like about the sound Oblivionized has now is that it’s impossible to label in a meaningful way; there’s something really special about the contrast of the technical guitar playing with the kind of intuitive, non-robotic drumming and super-emotive vocals but it isn’t typical ‘tech-grind’ or any of the usual labels you are given. How do you describe your music as it is on the album?
I honestly can’t, when we started out the idea of a genre was a huge joke to us. We started in 2008 it was weird man, you remember all the bands calling themselves “Ultra Guttural Brutality” and “Brutal Technical Slammin Death Metal” yeah? We all thought it was funny, some reviews called us Technical Death Metal, others said Deathgrind so we called ourselves “Misanthropic Technical Deathgrind” and it was hilarious. So we don’t really mind; Trve Kvlt Heavy Core.
the Life Is a Struggle artwork by Mark W. Richards (Heavy Hand Illustration)
You seem to push yourselves further with each release, is that something you do consciously? Do you have a ‘comfort zone’ as a band and if so is it something you avoid staying in?
I feel like we are aiming for something musically and we haven’t reached it yet, I love music and really enjoy being involved with underground bands and new bands. Lots of people come and go, make new bands and there are some brilliant bands out there if you want to find them. There are also a lot of bands that sound just like Converge, Napalm Death, or someone else and that’s rad, go for it, I enjoy seeing those bands play… but I’d like express myself, not someone else’s self.
Since the early days of the band it seems like the lyrics have become more and more focussed and specific and possibly more personal, is writing and performing an emotional or cathartic experience?
The lyrics are all developing an idea; it’s fully developed, yet I’ve been exploring the same idea for a long time. Making this music and performing is a very cathartic and important experience though, I feel sorry for any musician or listener that doesn’t have that connection to music.