The Hell You Want


The Observatory, “Catacombs” Album Launch, The Substation, 21 April 2012



Heavy metal tries to be this good: to transport listeners to the murky, cavernous depths of their psyche by sound. Sometimes the genre delivers, sometimes we allow it to continue to aspire while we nod along to a blistering guitar solo.  Yes, ostentation is entertainment if done artfully enough. The Observatory, however, are sonic alchemists of another plane.

On their latest offering, The Observatory evoke a nightmarish landscape of interminable proportions as angular and discordant guitars swirl around syncopated drumming like the chilling miasma around jagged stalagmites. Eerie keys mock and goad the travellers on the sonic hellscape of Catacombs. Every song adheres to the same rules of this unearthly terrain. There is no empathy here, only experience. Leslie Low, lead vocals, is not singing about how he knows and feels your pain or your doubt. Nothing in his words suggests this. Rather, his is an oracular function: he pronounces pain and self-doubt on the listener, ordering them on the “lunatic’s way” (“Accidentogram”), “down through the hall of worms” (“Insomnia”), “for the coil of madness needs soothing” (“Out of the Furrow”).

Why all this? Why fetishize the grotesque and macabre? To answer with “because they can” is myopic and derivative. It has to do with the nature of Catacombs. Not really an “album” in the conventional sense of the term, it emerges as an art project posing as both exhibition and inquiry at the same time. Through meticulously structured and masterfully overlapping sonic structures, the band posits the hell they have envisioned through their recording process. Ominous guitars have never sounded this ominous. Prophetic drums have never heralded a deathmarch as convincing as the rhythmic backdrop, the beating of the black heart that propels this album, song by song.

Yet, the band doesn’t seem above their art. On every soft strum, on every cymbal flourish is a fleeting elegy to the something lost on the descent into the seamier side of the imagination. A metamorphosis in reverse, “black bile” rarefied to the point of fixation, past the point of pessimism and waaay beyond the shallow puddles of “emo” but deeper, deeper into the belly of the beast, ourselves. When you truly let yourself go, where do you roam? When you are that deep in, where else can you go?

—Indran Paramasivam


Indran is a freelance writer especially interested in culture and the arts. In this age of speed and connectivity, the relationship between art and society and between art and culture is complex and dynamic. Situated in Singapore, Indran is actively involved in exploring how art, particularly, music, is produced and received amidst a backdrop of ever-evolving trends and influences.