Monday, 9 August 2010

Brown Jenkins - Death Obsession (2008) 95/100.


I was recommended America’s Brown Jenkins a long time ago but, until recently, I never really took this two-man project seriously. Still, even to this day and despite my love for the ‘Death Obsession’, I know very little about the project in general and have barely touched ‘Angel Eyes’ since it was recommended to me many years ago. I must admit, at first, I was put off by the bands name. It’s terrible. I still don’t like it but by sheer luck, I stumbled upon a link for one of their songs from ’Death Obsession’ (I forget which) on YouTube and decided to take a punt and listen to it regardless of the horrendous band name and, needless to say, I was blown away by the magnificent beauty of the bands sound. ‘Death Obsession’ is a weird one. From the off I got the impression that this is some sort of half-arsed wall-of-sound black metal album, but it’s so much more than that and its beauty is only something that reveals itself only in time, stage-by-stage and step-by-step. I for one am so relieved that the band decided to posthumously release this record despite the fact that they were adamant about maintaining their split.

This album deserved a chance to grace the black metal stage and it takes every chance and opportunity given to it to do so slowly becoming a modern day masterpiece in the process. As ‘Breathless’ opens this album, the process of gradually unleashing this albums demons begin. There are already numerous things going on beneath the layer of seemingly chaotic distortion. The bass, for example, is bombastically mesmerising its victims, luring them to an early grave with their demonic and hypnotic musings. The bass is an integral part of ‘Death Obsession’ and should be single out for praise by every reviewer who even dares to touch this album. As a long-time fan of black metal, I assume, neigh, I expect the bass to be omitted from proceedings. Most black metal musicians don’t seem too fussed about harnessing the subtle creativity and dynamism of the glorious bass. The bass is probably my favourite instrument, so I was bound to love this album.

Even though it remains an underlying factor throughout the course of this album, songs like ‘Breathless’ showcase the endless possibilities a good bassist can bring to a seemingly repetitive black metal album. The bass is often overlooked, so credit where credit is due because Brown Jenkins have realised something most black metal musicians miss -- even the best ones -- that the bass can be an integral part of a black metal album, despite the use of bludgeoning, repetitive distortion. The guitars, whilst always being a mainstay in every black metal album, are monstrous. They beat to death the listener like no other album I’ve encountered. Rhythmic, energetic and bombastic, the guitars, much like the bass, are incredibly diverse despite seemingly pertaining to a fairly formulaic, monotonous sound. The diversity of this album creeps up on you like a serial killer in the death of night. It stalks you until the last moment when you’re not expecting it, it jumps out on you and unleashes its full force, bashing you repeatedly in the face with a metaphorical hammer in the shape of a guitar. This Lovecraftian inspired nightmare pulls you deeper and deeper into the abyss with every rhythmic turn.

Despite its fairly open style, the album remains consistently dark and is heightened by the fairly unusual style of vocals for an album of this type. Instead of rasping, the vocals are growled in a slow, painful manner, much alike a doom metal vocalist would do. The bands genre description does state that this is a meshing of black and doom, so I probably shouldn’t be so surprised by the vocals but, normally, bands experiment with doom metal instrumentation, not the vocal style when they’re meshing these two sounds together. Another sign of how innovative Brown Jenkins can be, even if it is in only minor ways. The album, despite being heavily layered, is stripped down to its barest form, naked and devoid of keyboards, synths and fluffy soundscapes. The cold, harsh biting distortion is a constancy on this album and doesn’t let up. I was expecting an intermission along the way with perhaps the use of some generic samples, but no. Brown Jenkins are, and here’s that key word again, consistent throughout.

Just because there is no “fluff” to speak of, that doesn’t mean to say the album is without bombastic, catchy melodies because it contains numerous throughout each individual song, like ‘Lords of Suicide’ for example. Simply put, this is a collaboration between the usual elements -- bass, drums, guitar and vocals -- and despite this, it still manages to sound fresh and inviting. I assumed that eventually there would be a problem with the style, given how unrelenting it can be in terms of distortion, but as with bands like Darkspace, or Paysage d’Hiver, Brown Jenkins maintain high levels of quality through terrific song writing albeit in very different ways to those bands. However, nightmarish soundscapes are nightmarish soundscapes. They essentially do the same job and only a genial few can manipulate them in ways that truly terrify the listener, just as Brown Jenkins constantly do throughout the entirety of ‘Death Obsession’. Although most nightmares end, this is one that lingers in the memory for days afterwards. Even if I never listen to this album again, it will stick with me until the day I die. A truly remarkable black metal album and a terrific swan song from one of America’s finest.


2 comments:

  1. The band name comes from a Lovecraft short story. It's the name of the witch's familiar in the text. He's a nasty little fucker.

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  2. Ha, thanks for the information. I didn't know that ... Obviously. One of the band members contacted me today actually. Seems like an interesting chap.

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