Demo:listen: Obscene

Welcome to Demo:listen, your weekly peek into the future of underground extreme metal. Whether they’re death, black, doom, sludge, grind, thrash, -core, heavy, speed, punk-, stoner, etc., we’re here to bring you the latest demos from the newest bands. On this week’s Demo:listen we summon from the pit the dreadful power of Indianapolis’ Obscene.

It’s a good day when we get to cover a demo from a formidable, new Midwest death metal band. It’s an even better day when that band hits like this. Meet Obscene, a quintet from Indianapolis, Indiana who play  “traditional” death metal, full of strangled emotion and a heartfelt heaviness that crushes both the skull and the mind. The riffs are memorable without an ounce of cheesy catchiness, and the vocals are brutal and totally atypical for the times, like a young, acid-gargling Martin van Drunen. In fact, Kyle Shaw, Obscene’s vocalist, happens to be our contact within the band. 

Shaw lays out the band’s tumultuous formation for us . . .

“Obscene [began as] Brandon Howe (drummer/main songwriter), myself, Josh Kappel (guitar), Erik Lund (bass), and Ryan Green (guitar). We had started rehearsing around late spring/early summer of 2016. Brandon and Ryan had been wanting to play a more primitive style of death metal as opposed to what they were doing in Summon the Destroyer, a more involved and technical death metal band from Indianapolis. My previous band, Boddicker, had pretty much ceased when our guitarist/band dad Adam had moved to Seattle to escape Midwestern regression. I had mentioned something in a Facebook post about wanting to do vocals in a band again, but in a pure underground extreme metal band. Indianapolis is a tight-knit scene due to how meager its size, and after a few conversations and rehearsals, I joined on board. We’ve been a bit snakebitten with lineup issues as of late. Both Ryan and Erik had to leave recently due to family commitments that wouldn’t allow them to be a part of a band that wants to consistently write, record, and play out. We had initially replaced Ryan with Shaun from Acheron (he and Brandon are in Acheron together), but that lasted for a little longer than a month due to his schedule and career change. Erik and Shaun have been replaced by Roy Hayes (bass) and Mike Morgan (guitars) respectively.”

They weren’t always called Obscene, though.

“We had went under the moniker Blood Chasm for about 9 months and played a few gigs. We really didn’t think too hard about the name, and decided with how many ‘blood’ bands exist in metal, it’d be pointless to continue the name as such. We all have an affinity for simple one word names, and felt Obscene is memorable and to the point.”

Speaking of memorable and to the point . . . Obscene’s demo, dubbed Sermon to the Snake, comes across as incredibly focused in sound and confident in execution even though the lineup shuffling plagued them all the way up to the point of recording their demo.

Says Shaw, “Carl [Byers of Clandestine Arts Recording] is pretty much the go-to man in Indy when it comes to recording a DIY recording in the metal/punk scene here. The only real setback we had recording was pushing it off for so long trying to get everyone to agree on a date and Ryan having to quit shortly before we recorded. Brandon ended up playing both guitar and drums on the demo. Byers’ studio is really just him bringing mics and studio gear to our rehearsal space and getting to work. We knocked it out in a weekend with crushed beers and ripped hell.”

The demo’s opener is “Body of Tears,” which lumbers forth as if imperiously from the valley of death, then goes straight for the throat, sounding like something off Consuming Impulse.

Shaws tells us that those are “tears, as in wetness from the eyes. The name is inspired from a recent giallo film called The Strange Color of Your Body’s Tears. The film itself was just ok, but I found the name to be intriguing, and wanted to put my spin on it. The song itself has nothing to do with the film though, haha. The song itself, and really most of the tape, is more about questioning our mortality and life purpose during these dire and divisive times.”

“Body of Tears” rolls ever so smoothly right into the smartly-composed, and hard-hitting “Shadow Burial.” At this point you’re starting to realize Obscene are master songwriters.

“This song has more to do with embracing the end times,” says Shaw. “I was watching the first season of True Detective, and McConaughey’s character had said something along the lines of ‘walking hand in hand into extinction’. That resonated strongly with me, and I just went wild with the idea. How the phrase ‘shadow burial’ came about is hard to recollect. When writing, I hit the bottle and just write. Somehow I came up with ‘shadow burial,’ decided it could work with what I was trying to convey, and the mates agreed. And it’s a lot of fun to ‘sing’ in a death metal chorus.”

By this time the Paradise Lost-like melodies of “Tortured Tranquility” have wrapped themselves around your heart. It’s clear that Obscene aren’t your everyday OSDM band. In fact, you’d better think twice before calling them that at all.

“At the risk of coming off as a flippant dickhead,” begins Shaw, “I sort of hate the phrase ‘old school death metal’ for bands who have formed past ‘95. I see it as just death metal. Yes, I realize that’s a broad stroke, but it’s how we see what we do. Autopsy are an old school death metal band. Necrot are not. But they play a similar style. It’s just death metal! I was born in ‘85. I don’t have a stake to that claim, and the rest of my bandmates are either my age, or were swimming around in their dad’s balls at the heyday of the early 90s explosion. Having said that, our influences are comprised of classic, both sung and unsung, bands of the 80s/90s. I understand why music journalists and people use the ‘OSDM’ tag to succinctly describe a band, I just prefer ‘traditional’ as it feels more sincere.

“I think how we settled on our sound is by trying not to emulate a particular band or two. When we initially started, there was a desire to be in tune with early Stockholm death metal. After much conversation and thought, we decided against it. There’s no way we can replicate the feeling and passion of those bands residing in the Midwest circa 2016/2017 without being disingenuous and farcical. So, we opted to utilize some of those Scandinavian influences coupled with bands we love and respect from the US, UK, and other parts of the world of the classic era like Asphyx, Bolt Thrower, Cianide, Demigod, etc. Taking influence from such a deep pool is how we do what we can to forge our own trajectory as opposed to cosplaying as 19 year old Stockholm heshers raging hearing Repulsion and GBH for the first time in ‘88.”

Still, there’s no denying that Sermon to the Snake is an exceptionally written work by mature and experienced death metal musicians. 

Shaw says, “That would be Brandon. He plays drums, but, as I’ve alluded to earlier, he wrote the bulk of the material. It’s not that no one else can. He’s just a fucking machine with writing, and we’re all pretty much in agreement with what is brought to the table. We all have our hands on structure and nuances with the songs, but he’s really the man who gets it done.”

Sermon to the Snake is currently available in both physical and digital formats. The former being an initial run of 100 tapes. Meanwhile, Obscene are playing shows on a regular basis, and considering how many obstacles they’ve already crushed, the quintet shows no sign of stopping any time soon. On the contrary, they’re already at work on a new tape.

“We already have 2 new songs in the works with the current lineup. Things are moving along swimmingly thus far! We’d like to release another tape sometime next year, and then opt for a full length. In between all of those plans is to do some small-scale touring regionally and maybe the east coast spring of next year. We don’t want to over-extend our capabilities touring wise, but we don’t want to wither away in the heartland of the US either.”

Pick up a copy of Obscene’s demo today and secure yourself a future relic of USDM history. If you’re not into tapes, throw them some money for the download so they can keep making great, traditional death metal. Because with a start this immense, it’s a safe bet that whatever comes next from Obscene is going to rule, too.