Return to Zero
Back in the ‘90s and early ‘00s, Floor laid down an unique framework of bottomless low-end doom riffs and upbeat vocal melodies from which guitarist/vocalist Steve Brooks built upon to great effect with the catchier, but no less devastatingly loud, Torche. In the years they were inactive, more folks began to get what Floor had done with its clever fusion of heft and hooks, and so the Miami-based trio, who reformed in 2010, has slowly crept up the ladder of reverence to become a cult act that straddle the alt-rock to doom metal divide.
Notwithstanding Floor’s past credentials and current status, prior to listening to the band’s third album and first since reforming, Oblation, you might find yourself asking: What has Floor got to offer us outside of live shows when Brooks mines similar sonic ground with Torche to critical acclaim? The answer to this question isn’t easily answered, as it depends on where you’re coming to Oblation from. It would seem a reasonable one to pose if you know little of Floor’s past exploits in comparison to Torche’s, particularly because Floor’s new album does bare a huge but expected resemblance to Torche’s music since Brooks’ signature guitar playing and vocals are focal points of both bands. However, if you’re a Torche fan and are unfamiliar with Floor’s past work, you might not warm to Oblation right away (or at all) because the vocal melodies are not as immediate and the band’s bass-less rhythm section (guitarist Anthony Vialon and drummer Henry Wilson) pound pneumatically more so than Torche’s more nuanced players.
Working to tight song structures has become something of a trademark for Brooks over the years and, unsurprisingly, Oblation also showcases this enviable talent. The way Brooks and company make short, charging tunes like “Rocinante”, “Sister Sophia, and “War Party” sound complete and concisely arranged is a songwriting sleight-of-hand that never fails to impress. Taken on their individual merits these three songs stand up beside anything Floor recorded in the past, whether it be its influential self-titled LP (2002), 2004’s Dove (recorded in 1994), or the dozens of singles and splits the band released—all of which were compiled by Robot Empire in 2009 for a enormous box-set for die-hards fans. However, when considered in the context of Oblation as a whole, the individuality of those three songs, for example, blur into the background as Floor repeatedly relies on the same time-tested formula for the majority of the album.
It seems as though Brooks, Vialon and Wilson were over-conscious of what Floor did and should sound like when writing for Oblation, and at the risk of upsetting their past fans, they have—for the most part—stuck within the confines of the sound they created well over a decade ago (a sound that has been taken to another level by Torche and newer bands like Gaytheist). The booming “bomb-string”, a guitar string tuned so low it flaps like a pensioner’s bingo-wing, also makes its return on Oblation. It causes thunderous reverberations when used sparingly, and although it’s a novelty of sorts, there is a certain satisfaction derived from hearing its patent ground-rattle during “Oblation”, or how it cuts through the groove-heavy chug of “Trick Scene” and punctuates “Find Away”. But this isn’t enough to distract from the fact that there are too many similar and simplistic riffs that run roughshod throughout the album, very few tempo changes outside of mid-pace (For faster tracks see: the all-too-short instrumental “The Key” and the ramshackle punk of “Raised to a Star”), and besides his charming monotone drawl on the post-punk boom of “Forever Still”, Brooks stays firmly within his wheelhouse (minus the exultant hooks) to the detriment of the album.
The sameness of the prototypical Floor songs are further spotlighted when Floor does actually add variation to the songwriting and tries out some new ideas. Wilson’s girlfriend, Melissa Friedman, contributes “Homegoings and Transitions”, an interesting song during which Friedman and Brooks weave their complementary voices together. Floor follows this with the longest song on Oblation, the near eight-minute “Sign of Aeth”. A slow-burning, Kyuss-ian roar of a guitar opens and envelopes as Floor adds some adventurous and dynamic interplay to the band’s signature riffs and rhythms, culminating in a stomping finish that crushes all previous subtlety. Both of these songs, and the aforementioned “Forever Still”, show that progression is possible for Floor in the future, if the band decides to create again.
As we’ve recently seen with reformed metal legends like Carcass: Playing to nostalgia and using old signifiers to excite fans is important. But more important is pushing ideas forward so the music doesn’t sound like it was sitting inside a dusty old tape for years. That’s why Surgical Steel was the metal album of 2013, because Carcass got this essentiality down pat. Floor however, has let expectations of what the band thinks its fans need Floor to be stunt development and Oblation sounds as if the last 10 years never happened. Sadly, more than stomping around old ground was hoped for from this tinnitus-inducing power trio.