To sink into oblivion is to fade from existence. Destruction can be total and permanent, such as the oblivion that exists when one is pulled apart within a black hole or dumped in a pile of bodies at the end of a horror movie style encounter. Oblivion might also be sweet relief, such as drifting into a dreamless sleep after a beer bash. Either way, oblivion offers nonexistence and nothingness, a total vacuum and void. It’s a state of being that you don’t have to worry about old school death metal band Obscene falling into anytime soon.
The Indianapolis-based four-piece has been going strong since 2017 with one EP (2017’s Sermon to the Snake) and one LP (2020’s excellent The Inhabitable Dark, which includes standout track “Bless the Giver of Oblivion”) under their belt. Obscene is a band that fans of the classic sound of Florida death metal should feel more than at home blasting at full volume. Their debut longplayer is a record that immediately establishes them as a band to watch out for and a group more than capable of taking the torch lit by classic death metal legends and lighting a path to the future of the genre with it.
I initially caught wind of Obscene when I bought tickets to see Skeletal Remains headline at my beloved Reggie’s in Chicago back in November of 2021 and they were opening the bill. I checked their two records out prior to their set and then proceeded to get pummeled into submission by their live performance. I’ve seen a lot of bands live in my time but frontman Kyle Shaw is one of my all-time favorites. If you get a chance to see them in person, don’t think twice. In the looming shadow of one of my most anticipated albums of the year, their second full-length, …From Dead Horizon to Dead Horizon, I caught up with Shaw and drummer Brandon Howe to chat about the upcoming record, the band’s history, and everyone’s favorite Texan, Stone Cold Steve Austin.
First off, how did the band come about? You seem to have had a pretty consistent lineup since the start of the band. How did you all find each other and what made you all want to start this specific band?
Kyle: We had started around summer of 2016. Indy’s a pretty tight knit circle and I had put out something of an SOS about wanting to front an extreme metal band after my previous band dissolved. Our drummer, Brandon, had reached out because he was working on forming a new project and we started talking shop about classic bands we mutually admire like Massacre, Asphyx, Edge of Sanity, Obituary, Dismember, etc. Everything else sorta took over organically.
What got you guys into death metal as a genre? Who are some of your bigger influences, both in and outside the genre?
Kyle: Oh man, I’d say my intro to death metal was coming across Morbid Angel’s “God of Emptiness” video when I was like 10 staying up super late watching MTV and it scared the shit out of me, haha. As for diving deeper in the genre, that was me checking out Metal Maniacs issues in the late ’90s. I was already into Cannibal Corpse and Slayer but reading about (at least at the time) underground bands like Vader and Immolation and just how vast the world is as opposed to the 3-5 death metal bands I knew that everyone else did got me wanting to dive deeper. That part of me hasn’t died 20-25 years later. Some personal influences would be Martin van Drunen, Tomas Lindberg, John Tardy, Killjoy, and Chris Reifert.
Kyle, you have a really unique vocal style, even for the world of death metal which sees some very distinct vocals. How did you come up with your vocal sound? To me, it sounds almost like a bridge between death and black metal vocals.
Kyle: Thanks, man! A lot of it has been trial and error. I don’t really know “how” I arrived at it, but I do take a bit of pride that it’s fairly recognizable once you hear it. I mentioned some personal influences in the previous question and really I’m just doing what I can to channel the same feeling and vibe I get when you hear their voices.
What is the writing process like for the music side of things? You have songs like “All Innocence Burns Here” that have a more atmospheric side, plenty of songs like “Without Honor and Humanity” that are fast and furious, and then songs like the title track off your debut LP that includes piano music. It’s impressive that you combine so many elements effortlessly into one album. How important is that variation between tracks to you and how would you guys describe the Obscene sound? As a listener, it’s a blast to look at those eight tracks and not know what to expect next.
Kyle: Thanks man! Truth be told, I don’t think any of us set out to particularly have a song that needs to be fast or atmospheric. It all begins and ends with the riff. Sometimes that takes us to a ripper that’s about 3 minutes or less. Sometimes it can be something introspective like the title track. I tend to describe Obscene as simply traditional death metal. We’re not here to reinvent the wheel, but we feel that our overall sound is much different than a lot of nowadays death metal in the sense that we’re not “caveman death metal” or melo/tech/slam/brutal/whatever. Razor sharp riffs, steel hard drumming, and pained howls is what we deliver.
For the lyrics, what do you use for inspiration for those and what do you set out to do when you write an Obscene song? You have a lot of dark, violent themes running through your songs which I personally have always thought is part of what makes death metal such a cathartic genre for people. Do you find that tapping into your dark side for lyrics is a therapeutic process for you?
Kyle: I use almost anything and everything as inspiration. That being said, the trinity I find myself reaching to the most are cinema, literature, and video games. I generally set out to paint a sordid picture when writing a song. Sometimes they’re immensely detailed. Sometimes it’s vague. But the atmosphere and vibe has to be there. I’d say it’s therapeutic to a degree. I don’t have any sort of “morbid fantasies” or anything like that. I’ve just genuinely been attracted to macabre imagery and stories for as long as I can remember and do my best to contribute to and engage with something I love.
I’ve read Kyle talk about splatterpunk authors like Jack Ketchum (a guy I also really dig) and horror movies in general. Who are some of the band’s horror inspirations and do you have any book/movie recommendations that our readers might have missed over the years? It’s such a fertile time for horror right now that it can be hard to keep up with all the new stuff while also digging into all the older material that’s now more readily available through services like Shudder but there’s also probably never been a better time to be a horror fan.
Kyle: Oh man, it’s a fairly vast array of horror inspiration we try to pull from. Everything from Poe to Clive Barker to Grady Hendrix has made some sort of impact. Some books I think folks should read that may have slipped through the cracks would be The Troop by Nick Cutter, The Hunger by Alma Katsu, and My Best Friend’s Exorcism by Grady Hendrix. As for movies, PG: Psycho Goreman is one of my favorites the past few years. The Dark and the Wicked was a real diamond in the rough. Jakub’s Wife was a ton of fun and I’ve barely heard anyone mention that. One of Barbara Crampton’s best performances. 1000% agree that it’s a great time for horror!
Brandon: I, too, read a lot of Poe and Barker. Also anything Lovecraft and King. They’re all pretty much the golden standard of horror, death and despair. Graham Masterton is another one of my favorite authors. Plenty of worthy titles to look into, Feast – The Wells of Hell – Charnel House – Death Trance to name a few! As far as movies go, gotta love all of the classics that have set the blueprints for modern horror. I second The Dark and the Wicked for a phenomenal film of recent years – that movie fucked me up, man. Super eerie, bloody, and laden with hellish psychological torture.
Your debut, The Inhabitable Dark, is one of the more impressive full-length debuts that I’ve heard in a long time. What was the process of writing/recording that like? The album has great production as well, to the point where it definitely sounds clearer and cleaner than a lot of debuts. Where did you record and how were you able to achieve the sound of that one?
Brandon: Hey, thanks! I appreciate the kind words. We’re all very proud of how everything turned out with that record. For a first full-length, we really wanted to come out guns blazing, both in regards to the songwriting and the production. We wanted it to be raw, aggressive and not overly polished – but at the same time possess the clarity you speak of. We all have a pretty shared mentality of staying true to the genre and its roots that brought us to where we are today. The recording process for that one went incredibly smoothly. Our buddy Carl Byers recorded it at Earth Analog studios in Tolono, IL. Excellent equipment and acoustics, and an equally excellent ear behind the board. We did the entire record in a matter of a few days. I think everyone knew exactly what was wanted, and we simply made it happen. Just wait ’til the second one drops on May 27th! We upped the ante quite a bit.
“Bless the Giver of Oblivion” starts with a Stone Cold quote and I’ve seen Kyle do the beer bash in concert to introduce it, which is a hell of a fun touch. Have you guys always been pro wrestling fans and what about it appeals to you? My dad got me into it when I was a kid and I’ve always felt like metal and pro wrestling are two of the best working class art forms around and just kind of naturally go hand in hand. Who are some of your favorite wrestlers, both past and present?
Kyle: I think all of us grew up on it, and kinda dipped out a little after high school and then got back into it. “Working class art form” is a real good way to put it and I’ve never heard anyone describe metal or wrestling as such but it’s apt. Top 5 all time wrestlers: Stone Cold Steve Austin, Bret Hart, Undertaker, Ric Flair, Chris Jericho. Top 5 current: Roman Reigns, MJF, Hangman Adam Page, Eddie Kingston, Bryan Danielson.
Brandon: Oh, man. I’m a die hard early-era WWF fan. I can’t speak on it nowadays because I haven’t been interested in years, but I ain’t gonna dog anyone that’s still rolling with it! I grew up on the attitude era and basically worshipped that shit back then. Favorites from the 90’s to early 00’s would be Undertaker, Kane, Dudley’s, Hardy Boyz, Shawn Michaels, Triple H, Stone Cold, the list goes on and on. It definitely goes hand in hand with extreme metal!
Mark Riddick’s cover for that debut album is incredibly striking (as his art always is) and the combination of the black and white elements with the few splashes of red make it an incredibly eye-catching and memorable cover. Was there any kind of direction that you had for him on what you wanted the cover to look like? I imagine you guys must have been ecstatic to see the final product.
Kyle: Yeah, Mark fucken rules! Funny you ask because the initial design was all black and white. Our guitarist Mike had suggested adding red for the stream. I was a little nervous asking Mark because I knew he almost exclusively worked in black and white, but he made it happen and we all agreed it was an improvement of what was already a killer piece.
There were three years between the EP Sermon to the Snake and The Inhabitable Dark. How did you grow as a band between those years and did you make any adjustments to the way that you make music after getting your first recording under your belts?
Kyle: We actually had a bit of lineup turnover from Sermon to the Snake to The Inhabitable Dark. Neither Mike nor our bassist Roy played on Sermon and we had parted ways with our guitarist on Sermon a little before recording The Inhabitable Dark. That said, the four of us have been together since late 2017 and it’s been a killing machine since. We also sat on The Inhabitable Dark for nearly a year due to multiple delays not really related to us. So, it’s really been about a two year stretch in between recording sessions for us which seems fairly normal.
I subscribe to your Bandcamp and remember you guys saying that you’re working on your second full-length for this year. How’s that process going and what can fans expect from this one? Any goals for when you’ll get that out? To go back to my last question, is the process different for you guys for this second LP as opposed to the first one?
Kyle: Yeah, it’s called …From Dead Horizon to Dead Horizon and it’s coming out May 27th. I’d say everything was smoother sailing. We all know what we want and what to do with this band so all I can say (is) if you liked our last one, you’ll love this. Just bigger and better in every possible way if you ask any of us.
You guys have a pretty strong stage presence, particularly Kyle up front. When I saw you guys, you had no problem giving shit to the crowd (us Bears fans never did stop bitching about (Matt) Nagy and probably will spend another season or so blaming most of the team’s failures on him). Have you guys always felt comfortable in front of a crowd or, if not, how did you develop that stage presence?
Kyle: Thanks! That’s something else we take pride in. There’s nothing worse than watching an “extreme” band just staring at their shoes in a passive and cavalier manner. This may sound stock but we love what we do and I think that comes across live. I used to be kinda nervous as a frontman but you eventually gotta suck it up and go for broke. I pretty much do heel promos at every show because I think it loosens everyone up, myself included. Most people are wound tight at gigs, and if you come out taking the piss, most will relax and realize we’re all here for a good time.
Lastly, what are your goals for the next few years of the band? Do you have any plans for touring in support of the new record when it’s done?
Kyle: Absolutely! We’re embarking on a 10 day tour with Morta Skuld right when the album drops and have a few fest appearances. We’re looking to play out more in support of it. In a way, we’re looking to tour on two releases. We’re not a band that can do crazy 5-7 week tours but something like 10 days over/under is perfect for us. We hope to get overseas sooner than later.
Brandon: To keep shredding and writing! Obscene has become an unstoppable machine. We’re always working on new material while managing to get heavier and filthier.