For some people, listening to the shrieking vocals, emotively raw lyrics and ponderously paced, cacophonously loud downtuned guitars of Doom Metal is a painful experience. For fans of the admittedly narrow genre, the sound is utopian bliss. For Beneath Oblivion guitarist/vocalist Scott Simpson, both reactions are valid, since his band’s blissful sound is ultimately grounded in pain.
“I could really put this energy out in a negative way,” Simpson says over beers on the patio of the Northside Tavern on a chilly April evening. “There are so many bad things I could do. But to strap on a guitar and let it feedback and make these disgusting sounds that bore everyone and scream my head off at people, that’s better than talking to any shrink. This is the healthiest thing I’ve ever done with what I’ve got.”
“We’ve all got personal problems,” bassist Jay Waller says with a wry smile. “We’ve got our skeletons in the closet and all the bullshit we’ve had to deal with and grief and suffering. Some of it’s grudges, some of it’s anger, some of it’s sadness and it’s culminated in the music I’ve always listened to. I’ve always felt like, in terms of relevance to society, I’m on the outside looking in. That’s what propels me to write songs.”
Simpson and his bandmates in Beneath Oblivion (Waller, drummer Nate Bidwell and newly acquired second guitarist Allen Scott, who drummed with Simpson in the early days of the band) recognize that Doom is a subset of Metal that even Metal fans don’t quite grasp. And although they understand the often negative reaction, they remain steadfast in their pursuit of their chosen sound.
“There‘s a little more time and dedication involved in Doom,” Waller says. “You have to sit back and think about what’s going on because it doesn’t come at you all at once. It’s less concentrated and it expands. I’ve always been into fast music with slow breakdowns because it was discordant and just miserable. There was something dirty and harsh behind it, and the sadness and anger come together in the slower stuff. The good thing about playing slow is the fact that before you play each note you have time to stew over all the stuff that pisses you off.”
Beneath Oblivion formed six years ago as a duo with Simpson and his UC roommate, original drummer Jon “Animal” Martin, who left to concentrate on school.
Simpson recorded The Melancholy Demo in 2004, which was followed by the arrivals of Waller and Bidwell, then the recording of the band’s self-released full-length debut, 2006’s Existence Without Purpose, and their split CD with Rhode Island’s Sin of Angels. Beneath Oblivion’s core trio, while all fans of Doom in general, bring a disparate set of individual influences to the band.
“Scott’s got the Metal background, I’ve got the Punk background and Nate’s got the Hardcore background,” Waller says. “We all listen to the same things to a certain extent, but we have unusual influences and I think that’s what brings our sound together.”
Beneath Oblivion’s latest release is their eponymous 10-inch vinyl EP on the Covington-based Mylene Sheath label. The EP’s two tracks clock in at around nine minutes each, which is typical of the band’s songs (Existence Without Purpose, which Mylene Sheath intends to reissue at some point, had three songs which totaled 41 minutes), although Simpson insists they don’t set out to write epic songs.
“It’s completely natural, it’s just the way they get written sometimes,” he says. “If we keep jamming and we feel like we’ve gone through every motion that we need to in three minutes or five minutes, then it’s like, ‘Does it feel done?’ You try to put out a certain emotion or feeling, and if you don’t feel like you’ve said it, you keep going.”
Although Beneath Oblivion is playing sporadic live dates around town, the newly expanded quartet is dividing their schedules between day jobs, families, other band projects (Simpson in Cephalocoitis, Waller in Mard, Scott in Thorns of the Carrion) and writing material for a full-length that they’re hoping to have ready for release by this summer, which should increase their visibility in town and on the road.
“I’d love to be jamming with these guys twice a week and playing out, but it doesn’t happen with our work schedules and families, especially for an underground band,” Simpson says.
The limited Doom scene also works against a more frequent live schedule for Beneath Oblivion, but the community is growing, particularly with the arrival of The Mylene Sheath. The scene may be small but it’s clearly dedicated.
“Doom in general is like the outcast of Metal,” Scott says.
While Doom Metal may appeal to a narrow fan base, there’s no denying the sincerity and power that goes into its creation. Simpson’s shrieked lyrics are raw evocations of his personal experiences, resulting in a very revealing emotional presentation. But the volume of that presentation, combined with the almost indecipherable second-language nature of Simpson’s delivery obscures the meaning enough to help mask at least some of that vulnerability. The emotional impact of Beneath Oblivion’s music comes from the obvious passion with which it’s developed and delivered.
“There’s nothing to hide behind,” Scott says. “There’s no flash, there’s no solos, no big hair. It’s very honest, very raw. It’s almost like singer/songwriter stuff where it’s just you and a guitar. There’s a couple more pieces but you still can’t hide. It’s very naked.”
“I pride myself that we’ve never done anything that’s contrived and it’s always been honest,” Simpson says. "I’ve never compromised to fit into something or to try and make a certain feeling. It is what it is. We’re just ourselves.”
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