ORYX – Stolen Absolution

Heaviness – that all important, ever elusive, sonic be-all and end-all – can come in many different guises. Black metal traditionally chases heaviness through tremolo-picked surging speed and haunting yet beautiful enveloping atmosphere. Doom, of course, typically retains some of the atmospheric trappings but reaches peak heaviness through slower means, happily bludgeoning listeners with repetition, tone, and looser hypnotic riffs. Grind, Death, Post, whatever the genre, nearly all metal is a vehicle in service of achieving the greater aim of heaviness, that dark and ambiguous and magical master we’re all championing in this community of like-minded weirdos. And while a lot of bands use the conventions of their chosen genre to chase the dragon, every once in a while a band emerges that defies genre tropes and, instead, seems to innately exude heaviness from its very pores. Ferocious and uncompromising, some bands are heavy not because they specifically try to be, but because they absolutely cannot help it. I’m here to report that 2018 has its first entry into this menacing category. Something demonic is living inside ORYX. It’s nasty, it’s violent, and it’s gnashing its way out whether we’re ready or not.

Stolen Absolution, the band’s second proper full length, is a blistering collection of raw, noisy, blackened sludge that borrows liberally from various genres but owes allegiance to none. Sonic comparisons may rightfully include equal parts Couch Slut, Cobalt, Meek is Murder, and Lord Mantis, but those are only guideposts to help listeners orient themselves to ORYX’s unique landscape.  The band describes themselves as a “meager duo” but there isn’t an ounce of meagerness on display here: the guitars are blaring and distorted to a point of corrosion, the drums are alternatingly pulverizing and propulsive, and, especially, the vocals are genuinely terrifying. At the risk of relying on cliché, Tommy Davis genuinely screams as a man possessed; his throat-shredding delivery often seems more of a vehicle for some unwelcome invasive demonic spirit than that of a mere mortal. All of it coheres into an incredibly visceral listening experience that is at times terrifying, feral, and surprisingly emotional. And heavy.

“Blackened Earth” delivers the album’s first body slam within its opening minute, a galloping rager that displays the band’s potent formula of chugging riffs, inhuman screams, and atonal guitar leads that escalate the records menacing atmosphere. One of Stolen Absolution’s secret weapons is the formidable juxtaposition of punch-you-in-the-face, unrelenting wall-of-sound oppression abutting all too brief but disquieting (anti) melodic passages of relative quiet.  “Abject” serves as the records literal centerpiece and also displays that dynamic perfectly: after a screeching extended intro of discordant feedback and lumbering drums, the track detonates into an abrasive exchange between (relatively) up-tempo hardcore-tinged sludge and oppressively sparse but powerful hate-doom. Throughout, no matter the tempo, drummer Abbey Apple maintains a controlling presence behind the kit, punctuating sonic explosions with bright cymbal crashes and making liberal use of toms to help add extra low-end oomph to the two-piece’s sound.

A special note regarding the album’s length: at this point, I’ve listened to Stolen Absolution well into double-digit territory and not once has the record’s final title track concluded where I didn’t have the urge to immediately start over and listen again. Mostly this has to do with how affecting and, frankly, fantastic the album is but it must also be admitted that a brisk 35-minute runtime can often make the heart grow fonder. Obviously, there is no special runtime sweet spot for great records and I love just as many swollen, sprawling records as I do shorter ones. But, in Stolen Absolution, ORYX has created a perfectly digestible, endlessly listenable record of ugly, unholy music. This thing kicks the door down, eats faces, and gets out quickly – all to the album’s benefit. Kudos to ORYX for knowing how to leave a lasting wallop without overstaying their welcome.

As Heavy Blog Overlord Jonathan Adams noted very recently, some music doesn’t want you to be happy. ORYX definitely don’t care if you feel happy, but they make damn sure you feel something listening to Stolen Absolution. This is music that will not be ignored – urgent, manic, and caustic. And also, maybe, triumphant.  ORYX embraces the darkness and hatred most people try to keep at bay, displaying it in full daylight and inviting listeners to bask in its unholy glory. After all, none of us make it out alive. We might as well dance, clear-eyed, in the madness.

Stolen Absolution will be available via Midnite Collective on 2/23/2018.