When it comes to quality death metal that skews towards the brutal side of the genre, Comatose Music has become one of my go-to labels. Over the past fifteen years they’ve established a roster of quality, particularly when it comes to bands from the United States. One of the groups on their roster that has been quiet for a while is Minnesota’s Face of Oblivion, who released their debut full length ‘The Embers of Man’ in 2011. In the five years that have passed, vocalist James Lee left and was replaced last year by Jesse Watson from Incinerate. Now Face of Oblivion is finally ready to release their sophomore effort ‘Cataclysmic Desolation’ on November 11th, and it’s a real heavy hitter. We’re excited to bring you an exclusive stream of the fifth song on the record, Futility, alongside an interview with Jesse that discusses what went into the new album and much more!
Futility flies by fairly quickly in just under three minutes, but what I like about Face of Oblivion’s approach to death metal is that they keep things brief and don’t drag things out longer than they need to. The instrumentals come in with the type of intense blasting and precision drumming that you’d expect from death metal of the more brutal and technical varieties, but a little ways into the song you’ll notice that a hint of melody sneaks in. It’s a subtle nuance, but the quick switchover to some melodic leads gives a more foreboding atmosphere and gives a slight break from the attack, before leading into a blistering solo. With so many groups in this genre focused on endless brutality and slams, the variation makes a difference and makes Face of Oblivion more distinguishable. Though the instrumentals were written with the previous vocalist in mind, Jesse Watson fits these songs perfectly. He has those guttural growls that only seem to get lower and lower as Futility progresses, and guitarist Cole Gunther throws in some higher screams to shake things up.
It may have taken them quite some time to complete the follow-up to ‘The Embers of Man’ but the wait has been worth it, as this is easily Face of Oblivion’s strongest effort yet. There are the brutal riffs and guttural growls that every fan of this style wants, but the instrumentals come through as just a little more nuanced and diverse and that makes all the difference. ‘Cataclysmic Desolation’ is out November 11th on Comatose Music and you can pre-order it below:
Transcending Obscurity (Chris Dahlberg): Thanks for taking the time to answer these questions. Jesse, you joined the band last year. At what stage of the writing process were the songs that would end up on in ‘Cataclysmic Desolation’ in? How long did it take to complete the material once you joined?
Face of Oblivion (Jesse Watson): Thanks for giving us the time to speak out! When I joined the band, they had already recorded all of the music and were just waiting on vocals. I think I officially joined the band in August and wrote the lyrics, patterns and had everything completely recorded by the end of December. I also had to learn a handful of songs from the first CD for a couple shows. So, it was a pretty hectic time for me. I spent a lot of late nights and long weekend days working on it. Definitely well worth it though. I am very proud of the work on the new CD. Cole did some sick trade off vocals with me and he full on came into the studio, I said, here’s the words dude, follow this pattern, and he one-taked almost all of it. Dude was a beast.
TO: You’ve been in Incinerate since 1998. When you joined Face of Oblivion, were there any elements of your vocal work that you approached differently from Incinerate based on the style both bands write?
Face of Oblivion: Kinda funny actually, when we initially spoke about me joining the band, Ogar had said they wanted something a bit more understandable for the vocals. So I went into it thinking I was going to do more of a “core” vocal approach. After recording the first demo song, I scrapped that whole deal and just said fuck it, I’m gonna do what I do. I did try to take advantage of the strengths of the band. Chris and Cole both have some pretty killer vocals. Live Chris does some back up stuff and on the CD Cole and I do some tradeoffs and he does some great highs. I think it was able to give the vocals a bit more of a broad sound. Having the multiple vocalists, I was able to do some layering of the vocals on this CD that I hadn’t been able to do in the past.
TO: You mentioned in the premiere for Aokigahara that the song was based on the Suicide Forest, and that the other songs have lyrics inspired by real locations and events. The song we’re premiering today is Futility, can you tell us more about what that song discusses and what inspired it?
Face of Oblivion: I think most of the songs on the CD are written about actual events. That was one thing we discussed. And it created a lot more stress on my end. I can write gore for days. It just comes super easy. But to sit down and do line by line of actual events, and have it flow with the song and not only that the research that was involved was ridiculously time consuming. Futility is about the Tokaimura accident in 1999. Three workers mishandled uranium and it went critical. It’s a fully detailed account of what the three guys went through from receiving such a massive radiation exposure. The doctors had never seen anything like it and basically kept them alive as long as they could to document what happens. It is very gruesome.
TO: The production values throughout the album are great, as these songs hit hard but it’s easy to make out the details. Where was the material recorded and mixed/mastered, and what did the band have in mind when approaching these aspects of the production process?
Face of Oblivion: I think there are a couple things that would be big contributors. The guys’ playing on the album is all really clean and precise. Seriously some of the best musicians I have ever worked with. I think Will at 14:59 studios did a pretty kick ass job recording the vocals. I think we would all be in agreement that the crowning feature was Dave Otero mixing and mastering the album. Dave really spent a lot of time and worked with us to make sure we were all super stoked on the album. I personally had used Dave in the past and him doing the album was kind of a make or break thing for me on being in the band. I wanted to make sure that we put out the best possible product to really blow away anything the band had done in the past.
TO: There’s a great balance of brutal and technical elements throughout the album, with an emphasis on riffs that catch your attention rather than straightforward brutality that ends up sounding the same from one song to the next. With that in mind, what do you personally thinks it takes to make a great death metal song?
Face of Oblivion: I saw one review saying the songs were too short. Personally, think they are all pretty much perfect. I don’t think death metal songs should be 9 min opus. It should be brutal, but have the ability to catch your attention and stand out on its own merits. I have a pretty decent sized death metal collection and I keep going back to the albums of the late 90s/early 2000s. Bands had their own identity and it was a clear distinct sound. I think a lot of death metal bands now a days have lost that and just follow a proven formula.
TO: The cover art for ‘Cataclysmic Desolation’ has an otherworldly feel to it. Who created it, and how does the artwork tie in to the album as a whole?
Face of Oblivion: Man, Marco Hasmann nailed what I had envisioned. I wanted something dark and dismal and something that would just look like the end of the world after complete nuclear war destroyed everything. Circling clouds, with lightning crashing down, and charred earth. Total Cataclysmic Desolation.
TO: This is the band’s second album with Comatose Music. How does it feel to be a part of a label that’s well respected among death metal fans and what kind of support have they given?
Face of Oblivion: Steve and I go way back. When Incinerate was first getting started, we and Lust of Decay played a lot of the same festivals. I have watched Steve build the label into the giant it is today. When Incinerate left Brutal Bands, Comatose was the next logical step. I’ve always respected Steve and it’s awesome to be able to work with him through Face Of Oblivion as well.
TO: What’s the overall death metal scene like in Minnesota? Is Minneapolis the closest market to play shows? What are some other bands from nearby that our readers should be paying attention to?
Face of Oblivion: Minnesota is kind of a melting pot. There are a lot of really good bands here. Invidiosus has been doing a lot of touring but we have been able to play some shows with them, Ogar is in another death metal band here called Glutton for Punishment and a black metal band called Acanothostega. There are a couple more melodic death metal bands that are really good, some grind… what’s cool is the shows tend to have a bit of everything all intertwined.
TO: In July you took part in the Diabolical Barbarity tour alongside Embodied Torment and Omnipotent Hysteria. What were some of the best moments of that tour?
Face of Oblivion: Oh man, that tour was a trip. Good times. Plenty of nonsense ensued haha. Piss drinking, over consumption, vomit, no sleep, not eating right, hangovers, crazy colored piss, mannequins of the guys got on stage and became part of the Green Jello show, James Murphy saying AAAARRRGGGHHH all the time haha… pretty much had it all. We forged some good friendships and got to see some killer sets every night. Both bands are just amazing. I’d love to get those same guys and gal back together to do it again. Only this time I don’t wanna drive so I can drink more!
I don’t think death metal songs should be 9 min opus. It should be brutal, but have the ability to catch your attention and stand out on its own merits
TO: With the album nearing release, what are your upcoming touring plans? Is there a chance those of us on the East Coast might see you sometime next year?
Face of Oblivion: I would love to. I haven’t been out to the East Coast in a long time. We have a show in Chicago coming up in December with Unmerciful and that’s all that’s locked in right now. We have been all working since we got back from the last tour. We are just now starting to get back together and get going again.
TO: There was a five year gap between ‘The Embers of Man’ and ‘Cataclysmic Desolation’, and when you joined the album was already well under way. With the new lineup in place, might we see more material in a much shorter span of time moving forward?
Face of Oblivion: There will definitely be more Face Of Oblivion material sooner than later. I think now that the guys have a better grasp on what my vocals are like we are all in agreement that the next CD will be quite a bit more brutal. They had written the songs with James’ vocals in mind. I tend to bring a bit more brutality than James had brought to the table.
Right now, Ogar, Brandon and I have been working on some side action. We already have three songs written together and it is really flowing well. Once we have six or seven songs we are going to record a demo and then dive back into Face Of Oblivion.
TO: Is there anything else you’d like to say about ‘Cataclysmic Desolation’ or Face of Oblivion?
Face of Oblivion: I again want to thank you for taking the time to interview Face Of Oblivion and giving us the opportunity. I am very excited about the new album and think fans will really appreciate the time and effort we all put into making the album. Cheers!