Face of Oblivion
The Embers of Man
You're happily digging through a record store's crates. While you peruse the dollar bin, you notice the media formats slowly devolving the farther you move to the left; first CDs, then tapes, then vinyl, then wax cylinders. Finally, you come across a gatefold seemingly made out of flesh. You pick it up and you feel a faint heartbeat below your fingertips, almost as if the clammy, warm encasing is alive. You open the cover and you're immediately transported to a campsite located in a deep forest. A fire burns in the middle of the clearing and you hear the faint sounds of a Cynic album emanating from behind the flap of the weathered tent. You feel a hand on your shoulder. You turn around, your gasp spraying out of your mouth like a sprinkler. You're confronted by a shaggy hipster. His eyes grow wide.
“You found me!” he says. His patchy neck-beard is filled with detritus, resembling a shag carpet beneath a hamster cage. “Did you come for a terribly long story or a review?”
“I lied! It's both! But, I am very busy. I'm trying to break in this new Numskull shirt to make it look like I've had it for ages. If you want a story, I can still spin you a metallic yarn...made from the blasphemous wool...of a demon sheep...from Fenriz's flock or something...I'm not sure where I was going with that. The mind...it's...not what it was. But, if it's just a review you want, well, I can do that, too.”
If you foolishly agree to hear a tale, start at Part I and make sure you're in a place where you can fall asleep.
If you're already tired of this tl;dr bullshit, ctrl+f to Part II.
What makes a man widdly?
If one is vibrating on the same wavelength, the widdly's power is undeniable. It will consume you. You will let it.
You will feel an ache in the meat of your forearm, right on top of your flexor digitorum superficialis. It's an annoyingly dull, phantom throb only relieved by spreading your paw out on a fretboard. And, whenever you're torn away from your plywood pal by the self-imposed realities of your day-to-day, you will unconsciously hunt for the same salve. An invisible plectrum will strum the top of your Dickies's pocket, silent scales will be tapped out on your steering wheel by increasingly calloused fingers. Pretty soon, you will be sweep picking from dinner through the evening news, your reps fighting against the tick of the clock, defending your fleeting freedom against the inevitability of the eastern sky shitting out a new sun. The widdly will, in equal turns, drive you insane and fortify your sanity. You will let it.
You will lose touch with buddies who don't understand why you can't hang out. Your practice schedule will paint sour faces on your family like a brush made from the manes of misery. You will spend hours perfecting a dissonant squall only .001% of the world could possibly give a shit about. But, you will find others because the widdly is a magnet, drawing together similar souls engaged in the inhuman task of brutal tech death mastery, acting like the Gorilla Glue in the all-too-human vise grip of friendship.
You will find someone who blasts their days away, thumping chewed up sticks across their knees while stuck in stop-and-go traffic. You will find someone who sits over the tires on the bus, letting the rumble of struck pot holes mask their gurgles. You will find someone who really doesn't want to play bass, but will do it anyway because he owns gear and likes your weed.
And, together, you will practice. You will practice on top of what you're already practicing. You will practice until you're inextricably woven into the tapestry of each others' past, present, and future. You will become one organism; a sentient, discordant beast of muscular distortion with the 200bpm heartbeat of a tight snare. You will iron out every wrinkle until you're ready to cut a demo marred by a bootleg copy of FL Studio 9 and its tinny mastering defaults.
The demo will open doors, though. You will play shows. You will meet people who will cross their arms during your set and then offer rapid-fire praises like an auctioneer with goodwill on the docket while their eyes appraise nothing more than the line at the bar. You will receive bear hugs from unfamiliar friends drenched in pit sweat, their enveloping embraces and effusive thank-yous feeling like an instant bond which spans decades. You know they've only met you through your amplifier, but you will let the widdly transform plastic truths into concrete connections.
Someone will give you a record deal and you will end up paying for your rights to be taken away. You will book studio time with a bored burnout barely paying enough attention to keep you out of the red. You will dub movie samples cued up on your laptop into a studio mic. You will scrape together change and order a pizza on the last day. You will somehow get into an argument regarding toppings, contrasting a full session spent creating spectacular, sinewy suites of multifarious motherfucking metal. Your fingers will still ache from the lead you just couldn't quite nail. You will be glad it's over. You will wish it never ended.
In a few weeks you will hold a jewel case in your hands. You will touch every part of it. You will put it in your bookshelf, eye level, near the center of your collection. For months, you will walk by and catch the spine in your peripheral vision, the half inch brick in the multicolored mirror that only reflects your image.
Soon, you will get an e-mail notification. You will log onto a website and watch someone distill three productive years into two lifeless paragraphs and an arbitrary score. Your existence will be whittled down to two stars out of five. There will be only one comment: Ralf28942 will gently query, "Why the fuck do people still make this dumb shit?"
That night, you will hear his name in the natural reverb of your bedroom practice space, every pinch harmonic evoking his shitty screen-name.
You will hear it in every widdly.
Face of Oblivion, at least in the fresh-from-the-farm-leagues incarnation showcased on The Embers of Man, isn't going to innovate. It's not part of their M.O. to spin a slam which will line all other brutal death metallers behind them like Pied Borkers. And, unfortunately, for folks on the fringe, that's enough to write the group off. To them, if a band isn't busy twisting tropes through restless creativity, it's busy stagnating the rest of the metal world.
Life as a brutal band shouldn't be so rough.
But, recognize while Face of Oblivion isn't bringing new, fusion-bred culinary creations to the table of gnawed bone we all find ourselves seated at -- the band exhibits the defining contradiction of outfits of its ilk: Its musicianship wants to be miles ahead of pack, yet it relies on a form which hasn't changed much in the last fifteen years -- they hit their marks more often than not. For those with an itchy back button, rest assured, Embers eschews the slapdash, bullshit brodowns bred to entertain keggers. That's not to say Face has moved out of the zip code, it's just they have set up shop on the right side of the tracks. Yep, they boil buckets of blood like the rest, but they keep the fires stoked and burn away the impurities which befoul most genre exercises. It's a nice change of pace. The band lives and breathes this shit like others claim to, but are self-aware enough to skirt around the Burmese tiger traps obscured by Aborted t-shirts and Devourment tablature. However, don't consider Embers to be a burned out husk and overly calculated to succeed, either. Scratch the cover and you won't smell a dollar bill; it's not an album that acts as a tentpole to build a career around. Instead, it plays out as a particularly memorable ring on the stump of life for all involved.
James Lee has already grown a lot of those rings. Here, he grabs the mic and pen and delivers a typically dependable performance. He's obviously grown from his Origin salad days into a multifaceted force. His growls have range, forgoing the monotonous guttural wheeze of most scene throats. He screeches, groans, brays; if not matching the highwater mark of Antithesis, at least capturing its spirit. He's able to wring life out of long decaying topics, such as the joys of autopsy, and his performance adds a comparatively dynamic and varied layer to the pummel.
That's not to say the pummel is lacking or needed a vet to buff out the rough edges. The three-headed, string-plunking Cerberus of Chris Hensley (guitar), Brandon Bohlman (guitar), and Cole Gunther (bass) provides a serviceable mix of fan favorites, developing ascending/descending scale shredding, tremolo picked races, and chunky, palm-muted chords into something immediately familiar, but pleasingly constructed. It's something one would call almost restrained for brutal death, choosing to emphasize flow over individual talents, although the nimbly picked guitar underpinned by the busy bass opening of "Undesigned" definitely raises an eyebrow.
The band's strength, though, lies in their ability to turn uncompromising brutality into true hooks while consistently sustaining the kind of propulsion which makes a listener feel like the album is heading somewhere. Sometimes, it backfires -- the yo-ho-ho-ish section on "Panacea" and scattered forays into lightly baroque-flavored runs are questionable stylistic diversions -- but, for the most part, it's 31 well-paced minutes, smartly broken up by short, well-chosen samples. It heralds good things to come, as steady momentum is not a trait bands typically find in their inchoate state. It's also not something which can be necessarily taught. It's certainly present, though, and when the pistons are lubricated with it as oil, it makes for one smooth-running engine.
And, the man who might be most responsible for firing the ignition is drummer Eric “Ogar” Baumgard who has the rare ability to kill his given duties without drawing too much attention to himself. Part of the inconspicuousness of his blasting is no doubt due to the production which struggles to balance the 21st century concept of heft with the clarity demanded by the riffing. It pushes a lot of elements back, sapping the staccato chugs of ferociousness and burying the thump of the kicks and pop of the snare. But, even with a million dollar Pro Tools sheen, one wouldn't pick out Baumgard first. He cleverly leaves space for his fellow players and doesn't clog the rhythm section with grandstanding fills. Larval skinsmen, take note.
In fact, The Embers of Man isn't a bad little blueprint on the whole, distilling the pleasures of brutal death down to a lean little record, a virtue worthy of becoming habit in the world of widdly. Yet, let's reiterate: People will ignore it because it's not on the front line. It's not pushing the pile. It won't elbow out competitors in the paint to secure a place on a year-end list. Unfortunately, it's the kind of album which will bait a Ralf28942 to swing his anonymous, invisible dick in the comments. Because he can. Because he was never there, sweating away a Sunday afternoon in a musky garage wallpapered with old egg cartons. Because a thirty second stroll through a compressed-to-hell YouTube video is enough evidence these days to execute the best years of someone's life. And even after your album has left the front page, they'll keep spewing shit.
But, give it a couple days and the sting of exposure to an ignorant army will subside. You will know it's not for them. The widdly is too powerful to be suppressed. No, the widdly is for the widdler alone. And, when the moment comes to close your eyes and give way to time's ever-present push towards the void, you can lift a gnarled, arthritic middle finger and bask in the pride of knowing you left behind a legitimate artifact proving you were alive. For now, though, it's back to grind, to do it all over again, to exhaust your fleeting minutes so others can more ably enjoy their own.
And metal thanks every goddamned soul who does, whether it's good or not.