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'If your spirit gains, it's worth the price' - 91%

Acrobat, October 5th, 2009

Don’t let the date fool you on this one -- this, The Obsessed’s debut, pre-dated Wino’s tenure in Saint Vitus, and indeed, its strength was what led a certain Scott Reagers (angry wizard extraordinaire) to recommend Wino to his band-mates as a worthy replacement. The fact that this nifty little release scored Wino his place with the said doom metal legends should be reason enough for you to want to check this out (if you have more than a passing interest in doom, that is); but, in the name of clarity, I’ll continue to stress why The Obsessed is something very special, and indeed, a record of more importance than you may have guessed.

Though I’ve stressed this elsewhere, let’s make sure absolutely nothing slips through for those of you who are afflicted with such ailments as ‘deaf-blind’ or ‘dumb-wonky’: don’t come in expecting the utterly morose take on doom that bands like the aforementioned Saint Vitus and Pentagram happily (terrible word choice: yes) peddle. This is The Obsessed -- Wino’s stoic vision; undiluted, merely aided, by other players; it is his band and he is at his best in it. Why? Because it’s the complete Wino entity: vocals and guitar without one you’re missing out something (not that era of Saint Vitus was at all bad, on the contrary!). Don’t expect a downtrodden vibe to be what’s immersing you; yes, it’s slow and emotionally heavy -- it might well be stuck in a rut, but it’s not dwelling on it. Hell, to avoid conflicts and whines we could even label this as ‘doom rock’ for the duration (and noticeably not stoner rock, as there’s still more common ground shared with Saint Vitus than Monster Magnet here). Yes, don’t expect Liebling’s madness or Chandler’s despair -- it would be silly to do so. In fact you might as well hope for some of Messiah Marcolin’s warbling while you’re at it… you’ll be hopelessly disappointed. Oh, how very ‘doom’ of you. If anything, you could reason that if The Obsessed do deal with despair or personal conflict they do it in a more roundabout manner than a lot of their contemporaries would – ‘The Way She Fly’ is a song based around alcoholism and forlorn love (and the closest, sonically, to Saint Vitus that you’ll find here), but is always dealt with in a more fanciful manner. Wino-istic could well be its only true definition!

Anyway, yes, about that -- right from the beginning (if several years after the band’s inception can be seen as a beginning), The Obsessed are Wino’s project and the bastard child of some of his own musical influences. See, I’ve always thought that you’re greatly missing the point if you just view doom in terms of a bunch of guys borrowing rather heavily from Tony Iommi’s grand old riff chronicles. Sure, it would be ridiculous to deny or understate the importance of Black Sabbath in the development of metal’s various forms (especially doom) but to say that’s the only, be-all and end-all, ingrediant to doom metal’s pot is very short-sighted. You’ll hear Jethro Tull and Fairport Convention in Pagan Altar, Hawkwind in Electric Wizard, Blue Cheer in Pentagram (duh), and in The Obsessed, well, there’s a fairly heavy dose of seventies punk. Though it may not be so apparent in initial listens, and it didn’t strike me until listening to an interview with Wino himself in which he named Ross “The Boss” Friedman as a big influence. Now, you’re almost certainly familiar with his Manowar output (lest you be pulling up your trousers, scratching your head and leaving somewhere very shortly) but this goes back to Ross’s work in The Dictators. Listen to The Dictators’s first and third albums (Go Girl Crazy and Blood Brothers), and then this. Pay close attention to the guitars, now, or this comparison might be in vain! The lead tone and playing is inescapably close. See, Wino -- in what we can now easily label part of his genius -- simply wanted to marry two of his favourite styles with The Obsessed: the traditional heavy Sabbath sound with a more overtly energetic punk in the form of, say, The Dictators or The Saints (Eternally Yours is one of Wino’s favourite albums, I think you should give it a listen, too). There are more out-and-out punk-inspired tracks from the band’s earlier days (you can hunt them down on the Incarnate compilation, too) but the blend here is much more refined and more appealing overall. Perhaps it’s more of a blend of aesthetics than an absolute musical clash.

From then on it becomes easy to see why The Obsessed were an important band for the hardcore punk scene. Early 80s hardcore hot couple, Ian MacKaye and Henry Rollins (apparently Henry was terrified of Wino in the early 80s until he spotted his Motörhead patch, and then had a talking point) were certainly into this in its original tape form way back in the 80s. The Obsessed had long hair but there was something very easy to relate to with the music and its message, this is certainly closer to Black Flag than Motley Crue. Metal that punks can relate to: worth noting. There’s something impossibly earnest about The Obsessed’s music -- it’s both very spiritual and personal, in a manner that never even veers towards being dramatic or showy, and surely that fits in with some doom metal traditions, right? Sure, Ozzy’s caterwauling on Sabotage and Lee Dorian’s dramatic delivery fit their bands perfectly but I can’t imagine for the life of me Wino using anything other than his salt-of-the-earth, commanding style. It’s one of many things I find so appealing about The Obsessed; their music is just Wino’s vibe and personality translated into music: nothing more and nothing less. In many respects they’re one of the most introspective and ‘personal’ bands I’ve heard, and though I wouldn’t call the band’s sound “at ease” or “comfortable” (if band names count for anything, and I’m sure they do, then we surely can not deem Obsessive types wholly sound-of-mind) it does set the listener --well, yours truly, at least -- in an introspective mood, but not a depressive one (again, I don’t listen to music to feel small or insignificant, and can’t see any real reason to do so). Maybe this is how other people feel when they listen to their “Sounds from the Ocean” CDs?

But don’t let this fool you, I’d be a filthy liar if I could dare say this is background music -- The Obsessed’s debut certainly captures my imagination for the entirety of its ever-so-brief playing length. With a song like ‘Tombstone Highway’ it’d be hard not to; it’s second on my list of “greatest metal songs that sound a bit like ZZ Top” (Motörhead’s ‘Another Perfect Day’ happens to be the best, and that’s certainly no slur on the said ‘Tombstone…’) -- the main riff apes ZZ Top’s ‘I Thank You’ but in less of a cocksure manner and more an “deserts are warm and big” sort of way. It passes through seamlessly -- but whilst still retaining the necessary edge -- and sets the tone for what I could effectively call a relaxing metal record; but whilst not being “in one ear, out the other” but rather letting the record take you places. I can’t quite call it escapism, either; one must simply fall back on idle, unemployable descriptions like “hard to describe”. In essence, The Obsessed has created something that’s near impossible to do but with such class that you can’t question its effects: a metal album that’s simultaneously relaxing yet exciting. Choke on that, you whimsical black-metal-goes-neo-folk outfits!

Though ‘River of Soul’ has a title that sounds like a third-rate Jim Morrison rip-off (‘Soul Kitchen’, ‘Spirit Diner’, Spirit Caravan [?!]) it turns out to be something quite different; all ethereal and captivating. There’s some shockingly good stuff going on here guitar-wise; I don’t think that’s actually a sitar on the record but rather an effect-laden guitar, but its recurrent use really gives the song a certain charm that’s somewhat otherworldly, or rather alien; something perfectly formed – completely and utterly psychedelic without the heavy odor of cheap incense and a lava lamp providing your only light.

This is very excellent stuff; as honest music as you’re likely to find (especially if you like to divert from your normal listening patterns to “laugh at the disabled children”, as it were), and though I’d probably recommend Lunar Womb as the starting point for those interested in The Obsessed (as its more muscular tendencies are probably a little more accessible), this is certainly an album worth anyone’s time, and I’d really hate to see The Obsessed become an overlooked band, now, wouldn’t I?

“That’s it!”