posted on 8/2009 By:
Dennis Cornelius isn't exactly a household name for most of our readers. But if you're a fan of US traditional doom metal, especially at its roots, he's a dude you should probably make a point of investigating. His progressive slant to the genre has lead to an impressive resume of very enjoyable work that includes releases from Revelation (guitar/vocals from '93-'96 and '02-'07, including the very under-appreciated ...Yet So Far), Place of Skulls (bass from '03-'07, including the superb The Black Is Never Far), the sadly short-lived Oversoul, and most recently, the even shorter-lived Dwell Within. So, while I'd say his work has been relatively "under the radar," his impact on the US doom scene has definitely been significant.
Not to be discouraged by the premature folding of another project, and also fueled by his desire to rip it up again on a six-string, Dennis and fellow Dwell-mate, Chris Greenway, chose to forage ahead with a new line-up and an even greater progressive slant, resulting in the brand spankin' new pride of Oklahoma City, Memory Driven.
The biggest stylistic difference between this material and the rest of Cornelius' discography is how decidedly un-doomy the record actually sounds on the surface. The focus and overall feel is still moody and heavy, but Relative Obscurity comes across more like an extension of Dwell Within's bottom-heavy traditional doom if it were filtered through a planetary dose of late 80's/early 90's grunge. So, if the idea of listening to an album plainly influenced by the likes of Badmotorfinger era Soundgarden and Facelift era Alice In Chains makes you uneasy, it's time for you to collect yo' shit and head for the door: Relative Obscurity would have made a Columbia or A&M rep from 1990 grin wider than Smiling Bob with a year's worth of free male enhancement pills in his bloodstream.
For those metal fans not put off by the idea of a return to grunge, you'll find plenty to love on this record. That genre's heyday-sound matches up superbly with Dennis' clean, smooth vocal delivery, alongside his usual M.O. of allowing each instrument equal attention under the spotlight throughout every song. That means not only do we get savory riffs-a-plenty, but oftentimes the album's heaviness is delivered through its abundant use of bottom-heavy, bubbling bass coupled with some very stoutly played drums.
Relative Obscurity generally ignores the idea of stretched out guitar leads in favor of shorter bursts of melodic fretplay, but what these tunes lack in overly frilly noodlery, they more than make up for with their fluid shifts from doleful grooves to measures of pleasant mellowness. Personal highlights include the catchy, A.I.C.-inspired "Heavens Vast", with its long, progressive stretch at its midpoint; "Melt Into", with its bright, nearly summery onset before returning to more gloomy waters after the 2-minute mark; and the doomiest of these moody offerings, "Moment".
There is some strangeness afoot, however -- and I'd be remiss if I didn't mention this, simply because it's an element that takes up a full 15-minutes of Relative Obscurity's one hour -- strangeness in the form of some rather odd, ethereal keyboards. The instrumental intro "Super Nova" starts the album off with them, and every single song, apart from the album closer, ends with at least a minute's worth of similar electronic bloops, beeps and general spaciness. It's admittedly a little...strange, and I'm sure the fellers will be sick to the point of unloading buckshot from having to explain why they chose to end every song in such a manner, but it certainly warrants comment in a review. In the end, artists needn't explain "why," but I'll admit I wouldn't have minded if they weren't there...or at least not as often.
During a year where there's certainly no shortage of excellent releases vying for your seemingly ever-shrinking dollar, some of you may wonder why you should bother with a record steeped in yet another "sound of yore." But the truth is, despite the fact that I make mention of it at length above, Memory Driven play much more than just "grunge with a heavy metal core." This is just flat-out enjoyable heavy music, and one certainly needn't pigeonhole it into some specific genre in order to appreciate that.
If you love melancholy tunes spiritedly played from the heart, I encourage you to give Memory Driven a shot. Relative Obscurity is one of my favorite finds of the summer, and I hope (hope, hope!) Dennis and company stick it out for many years to come.
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