April 9, 2018 Crematory – Oblivion (Album Review)
Germany’s Crematory deftly, if uncomfortably, straddle the realms of Gothic sadness and Electronic Dance music. While their earliest work would slide easily into the Metal section of any record shop, their more recent output has doubled down on the Electronic influences, both through keyboards as well as samples and programming.
That all in mind, the solid triumvirate – Vocalist Gerhard “Felix” Stass and the husband/wife team of Markus and Katrin Jüllich on drums/programming and keyboards/samples respectively – return with steadfast Producer Kristian “Kohle” Bonifer again at the helm for their latest album, Oblivion, due out Friday, April 13, 2018 via Steamhammer/SPV.
In early 2015, after nearly two decades of consistent output from a steady lineup, Guitarist and “clean” Vocalist Matthias “Matze” Hechler announced his departure, causing the first lineup change since Hechler himself replaced Lothar “Lotte” Först. Perhaps symbolically, Hechler was replaced by two guitarists going into the recording of what became Monument in 2016: Rolf Munkes now handles lead guitar and Tosse Basler takes care of rhythm, as well as filling Matze’s role as the clean vocalist. A year later, two months before the release of Monument, Bassist Harald Heine also announced his departure; he was replaced by Jason Matthias who appears here in his first recording with the band.
Their fourteenth overall studio album, the gems amidst Oblivion are there, just hidden amongst what could best be described as a mixture of Rammstein, Kovenant, and Septicflesh, immediately before and after their brief respite. Thirteen tracks in total, “Until the Dawn” and “For All of Us” are solid additions, mixing keys and electronics well with Heavy Metal. The opener, “Salvation,” also comes close to a memorable track, overcoming its tinny over-production. Then there is “Blessed,” which later manages to bring the elements together in a listenable way.
On the other side of the coin, “Stay With Me” presents itself as a slow-moving ballad while “Wrong Side” lacks direction as subtle keyboards and the vocals take the easy road and simply repeat themselves for four minutes. This is while “Immortal” mixes Nu Metal leanings with vapid operatic vocals.
There is also “Ghost of the Past,” which has a decent pace and rich verses which are almost undone by its mundane, repeated chorus – the catchy keyboard riff also loses its luster. The title-track introduces a third voice in the form of awkward robotic vocal effects; the clean chorus calls out for help as the singer fears “the war inside my head,” which the music fails to describe enough to make the point. This theme continues with the closer, “Demon Inside,” which dips its toes back into the Nu Metal waters and ultimately ends the album on a down note.
Oblivion is caught between two worlds – Gothic-tinged Heavy Metal and dark, danceable Trance music. There are moments where this formula works – as mentioned, “Until the Dawn” is a proper mixture of deep growls from Stass, airy clean vocals from Basler, and pounding work from the rhythm and electronic sections. Additionally, this collaboration works again later with “Cemetery Stillness.” Other times, for songs such as “Revenge is Mine,” the mixture feels a little forced, with clean, ballad vocals interrupting an otherwise driving anthem.
Despite the infusion of new blood and three new members across the past two albums, too often the vocals fall in exact step with the tempo of the song. This is while past releases were able to incorporate voices as proper first-class citizens next to the other instrumentation. Similarly, the keyboards are often an afterthought in what is billed as a Gothic outfit. While there are some legitimately heavy songs, and some decent moments of melancholy, the two streams never seem to cross on the same track, or even in the same general vicinity.
Overall, there are certainly some nuggets buried in Oblivion, but they are surrounded by enough blackness that perhaps only the deepest of fans may find them. That is why CrypticRock gives Oblivion 3 out of 5 stars.