Entering the Underground #12: Obsolete’s High Speed Death/Thrash Will Never Die Out
As with many of the bands I cover in this column, Obsolete play a sort of music that’s both regressive with roots in the ‘80s and ‘90s but that’s very much out of fashion. In this case, they play a rarified sort of technical death/thrash that calls back to the old greats - Atheist, Cynic, Death, and their ilk - without unnecessarily repeating what any of those bands already accomplished. Obsolete’s debut album, Animate//Isolate, is immediately ear-catching from the first riff because the onslaught of technical, big-bass songwriting is just so damn unusual these days; most genuinely accomplished death metal musicians that want to play something in that direction lean more towards the Necrophagist school of death, and guys that are worshipping an earlier time are largely playing much simpler music.
The technicality is not a gimmick, however. As much as it catches the ear for how different it is, Obsolete’s focus on actual songcraft makes Animate//Isolate flow much faster than the 36 minute playtime of the record. Each song is individually distinct; some focus more on an onslaught of riffs, others on more personal melodies, and yet others on a fascinating interplay of layers, but all of them fucking slay. Speed is the name of the game, with every song being fairly fast (duh, it’s a thrash record, right?) but the way they’re put together keeps it from feeling like a void of repetitive blasts. Killer grooves, dynamic sections that reach towards aggression or bleakness in equal measures, and great raspy vocal delivery pull everything together really well.
It’ll take time for most listeners for this record to really sink in because of how much thought went into it, but it’s immediately catchy and engaging, with plenty of hooks, memorable lead parts, and ferocious drumming to carry it forward. Give this one a good listen and delve into the interview with guitarist Scott Fryxell below.
How’d you guys get hooked up with Eric / Unspeakable Axe Records?
So we released a demo in 2018. He actually hit us up through our email, and we didn’t even do any searching. He just kind of found us I guess.
That’s pretty cool. Were you familiar at all with the label before that?
I wasn’t, but the other guys had heard of Dark Descent Records. I’m not so great with keeping up with things so I hadn’t. Unspeakable Axe is a sub-label of Dark Descent. They’ve treated us really great.
You said you don’t keep up with newer bands and Obsolete’s music definitely sounds stuck in 1992 or 1993, and not in a bad way at all! There’s a clear obsession with old progressive thrash and death metal bands. Is that accurate?
I don’t know if it’s necessarily intentional, but we all listen to that kind of stuff. I listen to some newer stuff too but I have a hard time keeping everything straight: band names, labels, that kind of stuff. Obviously there’s some Death influence, I worship that band and it’s weird to me if people don’t. I try and keep it about the riffs, a little more on the technical side, we’re kind of just dorks really.
There’s not a whole lot of bands doing this kind of thing with the technical old school stuff. Why do you think that is?
[Laughs] Well, it’s hard! And things come and go, styles change. I don’t really know what’s popular right now but I think eventually it’ll come back. I dunno. I wish more bands would, it’s a lot of fun to listen to and play!
Do you find it any more difficult to write than stuff that’s a little less difficult to play?
Honestly for me, it’s the other way. Taking something really simple and make it sound super good is hard. It’s obvious when it’s not. A couple chords with someone singing is usually really really bad or the opposite. You can play super fast riffs over 220 BPM drums and it won’t be the most progressive thing or a new thing but if it’s done right it’s going to sound really cool.
Is playing fast specifically something that was part of the initial idea for this band?
Oh, I think so! Lucas started the whole project. We have the same kind of friend group in Minneapolis. He showed me one of his songs, and I wrote a song, and we agreed to put it together and go for it. Going faster and faster is a goal every time.
How much of the songwriting is split between you, Lucas, and the other guys?
Lucas and I do the heavy lifting. We pretty much write songs and send them to each other, get approval and make changes, that kind of thing. We lay down parts for Dan and Pat, just suggestions for what to do with Dan on bass and Pat on drums, but yeah, Lucas and I do most of the songwriting.
It took two or three years between The Rumored Death of Atlas and the new album. How long did it take to put together the songs for Animate//Isolate?
We had them put together maybe a year and a half or two years after the release of that demo. We re-recorded two of them from the demo. Some of it we’d already started writing while we recorded the demo, so it’s been a long time for this to come out. We think it sounds pretty good so we’re happy with how it came about.
Something I noticed about the album is that it clocks in at a bit less than 36 minuites, which is super uncommon for this kind of technical music. What really drew you to keeping it concise?
I prefer when albums are more concise. If it’s a big epic piece of music that needs to tell a huge story like a Pink Floyd record I can get into that, but when it’s more concise it leaves you wanting more. When a really killer record is like half an hour long you want more immediately. It works with live sets, too. A band plays for ten or fifteen minutes? Get ‘er going.
We kind of like the idea of just keeping it short and sending home the best parts.
Was it ever difficult to keep individual songs shorter?
They kind of just came together the way they did. Most changes would have been within the songs, individual note parts, not necessarily taking out whole sections or anything like that. They came out the way we were trying to write them initially.
The lyrics contained within are mostly pretty bleak, but the album cover itself is just gorgeous and super classy. Is that contrast between the expectations you’re setting up aesthetically and the reality of the songs intentional?
I don’t know if I’d call it intentional. The overall thing we wanted to do with the band was just a little different, not exactly your typical thing. The flower picture is one our friend took, and Lucas found an artist in Russia and we thought it was real cool. It was one of the only decisions we made as a whole band, everyone in the band immediately wanted to use it.
With the lyrics, I dunno, I was just kind of tired of reading about gore and wanted to do something a little different. I guess it comes off as pretty bleak. [Laughs] I wrote the lyrics for seven of the songs, Lucas helped with one, and Dan did the closing track.
There’s a recurring sense of weariness throughout the album, and of existential dread. Where does it come from, and how does it tie into the songwriting?
A lot of it comes from a place of growing. It talks about stuff that happened a long time ago. We’re older than I think people probably would guess. They’ve been playing in bands forever. For a while it helped me develop how I treated people in relationships and existed amongst them. This was just talking about myself, and former people I evolved with, whatever. Working through that stuff. It was kind of therapeutic and cool.
Some of it’s more just literary things. There’s a big part about “The Most Dangerous Game.” I can’t remember who wrote it. The story of a hunter who hunts another hunter and it makes him feel alive again as he’s begging for his glorious death. That’s in “The Fog.” Stuff like that.
You mentioned that the other guys played in a bunch of bands but nothing about yourself. Is this your first serious band?
It’s my first one to release a full length record. For a lot of my 20’s I just sat at home and wrote music and didn’t try and play in bands. Lucas inviting me to play in this project was my first real kick in the ass to want to play heavy metal again. It’s awesome, and his riffs and music are so great that I’d have been stupid to say no.
Was it intimidating at all joining a serious project?
Not nearly as intimidating as Lucas in the studio! Oh man, him staring us down in the studio as we tried to get parts exactly right...but it was worth it! I wasn’t nervous about doing it or people hearing it or whatever, I guess that never really occurred to me.
How much did you guys have to prepare to get the songs tight for these super-tight recordings?
We all did a lot of practicing for it individually. You’ve got to just grind it. I spent an entire summer just going over everything. Pat’s a brilliant, brilliant drummer. He did “The Slough” in his first take in the studio, I couldn’t believe it. It was ridiculous. One take Pat, that’s what we call him.
Did you have everybody in mind right from the beginning when you started coming up with the idea for the band?
Lucas and Pat had played together before, and Lucas always had Pat in mind to do drums. At first it was just Lucas and I trading songs together, and then Lucas also knew Dan, who plays in a ton of bands in this city. He knew him and wanted him to join the project, so basically the people involved are the people who are in it.
You said that you had some songs for Animate//Isolate in progress when you recorded the demo. Does that mean new stuff is already in the works?
Oh, that’s a definite possibility! I dunno what I can say without the guys getting mad, but I write all the time, so I’ve always got something working!
What’s the next step for the band?
I think we have to do a few shows. We haven’t played in so long because of the pandemic. Play a few shows, see how it goes, hopefully get into the studio.
Animate//Isolate released on April 19th, 2021 via Unspeakable Axe Records.