Being an experimental band on a major metal label takes both acumen and guts. Obsidian Kingdom are teeming with both, and have proven themselves as a band unafraid to push boundaries over their previous four albums spanning back to 2006. The most recent, 2016’s A Year With No Summer was a strong mixed beverage of progressive metal, sludge, post-metal, post-punk and industrial. This album received praise for its genre-bending creativity, but at times fell a bit flat in its execution. If that album was a dark whiskey drink, the new album Meat Machine dropping later this month through Season Of Mist, is a colorful cocktail of questionable origin. From the stoner-sludge vocals and progressive riffs, post-metal climaxes, dashes of funk and disco, to the trip-hoppy beats you might find at industrial goth raves, Obsidian Kingdom have built a horror-house of bewildering energy that you can get lost in.
From the get go of the first track “The Edge” you’re greeted by the passionately disgruntled singing of guitarist/vocalist Rider G Omega (yes, this is an everyone having a stage name kind of band). His vocals are in that Mastodon type range that a lot of progressive stoner and sludge metal bands operate in, where the lyrics are mostly discernible but there’s still a prominent snarl to everything. Yet, it only takes about 30 seconds for you to realize this isn’t an ordinary progressive sludge album. The music breaks into silence and some soothing piano, before your kicked off your feet by the soaring beauty of Obsidian Kingdom’s second vocalist and keyboardist, Jade Riot Cul. The second track “The Pump” is one of the album’s strongest, relying more heavily on their post-metal origins. Heavy riffs are accented by sporadic flashes of keyboard, and we get a first strong glimpse of Rider’s more soaring clean choruses. This first reminded me of a great low-flying release from 2018 – Manes’ Slow Motion Death Sequence. Both groups vocalists however arguably share some similarity to that classic and powerful rough twang of Ozzy Osbourne. On “Mr Pan” the guitar prowess of Rider and Viral Vector Lips (yeah) are at the forefront, with some really funky riffage and an extended solo full of shred.
A few tracks such as “Naked Politics” kind of trod along like a fairly radio-accessible hard/alt rock song for most of the verses until they let their bizarreness enter the fold. It slows down, and the vocalists trade off echoing each other in this unsettling manner. Their embracing of the strange is where this album really succeeds, and by this point (the fourth track) as a listener you’ve really subverted your expectations. That slowed down part continues into the following track, where we’re greeted with some trip-hop drums and more of Jade’s strong vocal presence. “Flesh World” itself is a very enigmatic track that blends those trip-hop elements with gothic doom and some electronic-fused processed vocals for this sci-fi horror film cinematic feel. The synths play a prominent role across the album, blending the line of retro and futuristic in their timbre. “Meat Star”, the album’s more straight-forward first single of which an excellent video was produced for again harkens back towards the Mastodon comparable both vocally and instrumentally. It makes for a bit of a reprieve from Meat Machine’s riskier and risqué-er tracks. “Womb of Fire” for instance has some resemblance to experimental black metal group Liturgy’s The Ark Work with its overwhelming abrasiveness.
For as commendable as the seamless genre bending experimentation is, I can’t help but feel a desire for a more personal, emotional connection that just didn’t quite hit enough. We do get some intimate introspection in the melancholic piano and Jade’s vocal driven album closer “A Foe”, but it doesn’t consistently enough carry into the more metal aspects of Meat Machine. And while it falters there, it makes up for it in it’s other-worldliness. It’s a surreal journey through a nightmarish amusement park of terrifying, yet colorful, visceral sensory stimuli. Each track takes you on a ride of dips and twirls which explore the nether regions of a troubled, suppressed sub-conscious. From unsettling desires of the flesh to invasive murderous intent, they capture that feeling of something being just a little bit off that a great thriller film can convey.
Obsidian Kingdom pride themselves on their effective ability to avoid being pigeon-holed into any one genre. They take the term progressive and really run with it. Even in their promotional material they’re quoted as being in a restless journey to find their identity, and you can see them striving for that here. The album employs so many influences and styles, almost to a fault. There’s a few tracks where if they came on shuffle I would struggle to interpret that they were from this band. While this isn’t intrinsically a negative, I love non-metal elements in metal, there’s some debate as to how it all works with the rest of the album. It sometimes feels like they were throwing every idea they had at the wall and somehow everything stuck. But perhaps this Jackson Pollock of progressive sludge is their identity. Metal needs bands like Obsidian Kingdom who aren’t afraid to take risks and make mistakes. It needs bands to continue to push the boundaries of what metal can be, and that’s exactly what Meat Machine has accomplished.