Monday, 11 May 2015

Obsequiae - ‘Aria of Vernal Tombs’ (Album Review)

Album Type: Full length
Date Released: 26/05/2015
Label: 20 Buck Spin

‘Aria of Vernal Tombs’ CD//LP//DD track listing:

1. Ay que por muy gran fremosura
2. Autumnal Pyre
3. Until All Ages Fall
4. L’amour dont sui espris
5. Pools of a Vernal Paradise
6. Anlace and Heart
7. The Anchoress’s Orison
8. In the Absence of Light
9. Wilweorthunga
10. Des oge mais quer eu trobar
11. Orphic Rites of the Mystic

Obsequiae is:

Tanner Anderson | Vocals, Guitar, Bass
Vicente La Camera Mariño | Medieval Harp
Andrew Della Cagna | Drums


The inclination for music writers in metal to turn album reviews into calls for bands to be more forward-thinking is both natural and well-meaning. The desire to see heavy metal continue to grow, achieve, and explore new waters is a healthy one. It can also lead to bands throwing a bunch of shit at the wall and hoping something sticks. Think of some of the genre combinations metal bands have come up with in the quest to sound different over the years: rap, j-pop, fucking polka. Yet, more often than not, it feels more like a novelty destined to wear off and fade away. I can imagine someone chuckling to themselves about eventual folk metal revivals with people born in 2008 putting on some burlap and warpaint and doing their best Finntroll impression, like thrash revival kids did in 2002 with white high tops, denim vests, and Slayer or Megadeth.

My point in bringing all of that up is that I would argue that the path to finding a new and inventive sound in heavy metal isn’t a single, one-way road going “forward”. Obsequiae might be the best example of how a band can go backwards in time, add new elements and revisit an old sound with a fresh mind and emerge with something that no one has really heard before. There is plenty that feels familiar on ‘Aria of Vernal Tombs’, but with one important instrumental ingredient and a new approach to that familiar material, Obsequiae have made something old feel new again.

The “new” ingredient is a medieval harp which factors prominently both as an individual instrument, as well as informing the structure of the more traditional metal fare on the album as a whole. Four of the eleven songs on ‘Aria of Vernal Tombs’ are harp solos and while I admit that I’m only a very casual fan of classical/medieval music, there’s no denying the beauty of each of these four pieces. These aren’t throwaway interludes like some unrelated keyboard intro on a black metal album. They’re an important part of the album’s overall experience and as I mentioned earlier, they inform the approach to songwriting the guitars take over the course of the metallic portions of the album.

As for the actual metal of the album, there are some parallels with a number of bands from the 90s: In Flames circa ‘Jester Race’, Opeth prior to ’My Arms Your Hearse’, along with early Aeternus and later Bathory. Just in reading those points of reference you should have a general idea of what this sounds like: flowing leads, vibrant harmonies and abundant atmosphere. Tanner Anderson’s vocals sound distant in the mix with heavy reverb and performed with enough human anguish to act as the album’s ancient revenant, narrating what already feels like a heavy metal modernisation of some lost archaic songbook.

That’s part of the magic at work here: it’s equally derived from something centuries old and something twenty years old and yet it never really feels like its hero worship or nostalgia. Two key stylistic elements—both very different degrees of old—come together to form something new. It may not be made completely from scratch, but the vision required to make something like this happen deserves praise. Not to mention that purely from a songwriting standpoint this is one of the better albums of the year thus far. Even on that basis alone, ignoring its other admirable qualities, ‘Aria of Vernal Tombs’ warrants the strongest of recommendations.

Words by: Daniel Jackson

You can pick up a digital copy here and a CD/LP copy here.

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