Houston’s Project Armageddon are quick to let their listeners know what it’s all about. On their third album, Cosmic Oblivion, they open with the eight-minute instrumental “Cosmic Crush,” and the ensuing progression moves from riff to riff to riff and back again. Frills be damned. Each member of the Texan trio, who release Cosmic Oblivion through Shattered Man Records as the follow-up to 2012’s Tides of Doom after having made their debut with 2010’s Departure, played at one point or another in Brainticket Records trad-doomers Well of Souls, but with Project Armageddon, they present a foundation of oldschool metal that one can hear in the guitar tone of Brandon Johnson and the vocals of bassist “Doomstress” Alexis Hollada, as well as the forward-moving rhythms of drummer Raymond Matthews.
The album’s 47 minutes (43 for the digital version) are put to varied use, however, with several cuts positioned almost as bonus material at the end, including the CD-exclusive Judas Priest cover “Deceiver,” the acoustic song “Time’s Fortune” — which, though it’s somewhat buried at the end, is a highlight — and a live version of the title-track to Tides of Doom (recorded somewhere along the line in the band’s hometown) to finish out. As such, though substantial in both runtime and content, Cosmic Oblivion at times feels more like an EP in giving the audience a sample of what Project Armageddon have to offer than a front-to-back full-length, but there’s a flow established all the same, the metallic drive of Matthews‘ drums and Hollada‘s bass setting a patient, grand opening pace under Johnson‘s riffs on “Cosmic Crush,” but deftly shifting between tempo and fostering fist-pumping righteousness along the way through the opener’s chug-happy course.
Like many in Texas’ heavy underground, they’ve taken some measure of influence from Pepper Keenan‘s work in Down and C.O.C., and Project Armageddon aren’t halfway through “Cosmic Crush” before one can hear shades of Deliverance in the guitar, but they grow more individual as they move forward from there and toward “Frigid Bitch,” the centerpiece of the CD and a bluesier, almost Witch Mountain-esque high point boasting Hollada‘s most accomplished vocal performance and a careening interplay of guitar and bass in its back half that’s a showing of diversity in approach after the two tracks prior, “Vortex to Oblivion” and “Lost to Forever,” round out a (theoretical, since so far as I know there’s yet to be a vinyl pressing) side A comprised of satisfying and unmistakably metal-infused riffs that seem to be pushing toward a deeper purpose.
Taken with the vinyl split in mind, Cosmic Oblivion is a completely different record than when played front to back, and some of the second half’s experiments — that acoustic track, the cover, the live cut — make more sense, but the tradeoff for stopping halfway through is felt in the momentum that emerges between “Cosmic Crush,” “Vortex to Oblivion” and “Lost to Forever,” all three of which top seven minutes and give a complete-seeming glimpse at Project Armageddon‘s songwriting and in particular Hollada‘s marked frontwoman presence in the tracks, which are peppered with stage-style exclamations and an energy that does right in teasing a live feel later affirmed as “Tides of Doom” rounds out. Compression on the vocals takes a bit of getting used to, but I’m not about to pan a self-releasing band for audio fidelity. The quality of the tracks holds up across Cosmic Oblivion‘s first half, and while the album’s structure can be a head-scratcher at first, it doesn’t take much to put the pieces together, and a hook like that of the chorus to “Lost to Forever” is its own best sell.
A tempo downshift and more relaxed — opening “woo!” aside — but still heavy vibe, along with Hollada‘s soulful approach, help make “Frigid Bitch” the highlight that it is, and if there’s one truly frustrating aspect of the CD version, it’s that the cover of “Deceiver,” which originally appeared on Judas Priest‘s classic 1976 second album, Sad Wings of Destiny, is placed before “Time’s Fortune.” What’s the difference? Arriving after the cover, the acoustic cut feels more like a bonus track than the album closer it truly is, and more like an extra than the essential component it deserves to be. It broadens the context of Cosmic Oblivion as a whole, and particularly directly following “Frigid Bitch” as it does on the digital version, its added percussion, harmonica and subdued vocal, it provides a resonant counterpoint to side A’s more traditional aspects. “Deceiver,” at just over four minutes, rocks plenty hard, but interrupts that process. Maybe it’s moot, since invariably more people will hear the digital album anyway, but the shift between “Frigid Bitch” and “Time’s Fortune” is an especially engaging finish and the CD doesn’t get the same treatment.
Structured for vinyl, released on CD and better suited to mp3, Cosmic Oblivion can seem somewhat uneven at times, but it will not be the last we hear from Project Armageddon, and I’d be very surprised if someone didn’t pick it up for a restructured vinyl release. That said, without “Deceiver” or the live “Tides of Doom” to close out, Cosmic Oblivion would check in at just 35 minutes, so in addition to an extra enticement toward the physical product — a philosophy against which I won’t argue — they also add to the album’s runtime, and the latter, which opens with a sample releasing the Kraken, affirms the band’s focus on their onstage energy while also not at all subtly confirming that anything Project Armageddon bring to the studio they can also bring to a live setting: no trickery involved. Not that much would be suspected, since as noted at the top, it’s about the riffs and the groove, but the one element “Cosmic Crush” leaves out is Hollada‘s vocals, the dynamics of which are crucial to the album’s overall success.