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Some Latvians and Lithuanians seem to like making their own special brand of folk/pagan metal bands, such as Skyforger and Obtest. These bands tend to take on a very distinct sound when compared to Slavic or Scandinavian bands playing what is arguably the same genre of music. In Obtest’s case, their debut album Tukstantmetis is a very interesting if ultimately somewhat imperfect and immature foray into Lithuanian history and folklore.
First of all, let’s deal with the music. Obtest play a sort of pagan black metal consisting in a loose base of black metal, upon which are added various unorthodox folk elements to create the band’s own sound. The guitars play a series of riffs which are somewhat bombastic in nature, in that they’re repetitive, very melodic, a bit loud and well produced and give off this acceptably happy atmosphere to the music. A few well-placed solos add some much-needed technicality to the whole thing. The guitars are only part of this sound however, seeing as how the bass plays a relatively prominent role while the always present drumming pounds constantly to give an interesting ancient atmosphere to it all.
The final element in this mix is the vocal work, which is a bit strange. The vocals consist in a sort of harsh yell/rasp which varies very little throughout and takes a good deal of time to get used to. The music generally tends to stay fast-paced and has a certain thrash metal flair to it all, although that’s very discreet. Tukstantmetis is hard to pigeonhole in any one genre and is especially hard to decisively compare to other bands’ music, save perhaps their slightly more well-known northern neighbours, Skyforger, although even there the distinctions are evident, especially in the vocal department. On the subject of individual songs, there are few that distinguish themselves from the mass of the album. I could of course mention the very memorable vocal lines from Menulio Karunos Kautynes, but that’s about it. Everything else is so consistent with itself that little can be picked away as being either much better or much worse. However, the overall sound isn’t as good as it can be, and this is apparent because the band seems a little immature; Tukstantmetis is their debut album and the sound isn’t exactly fully developed.
One distinguishing factor of Baltic pagan black metal bands is their unwavering peaceful nationalism and dedication to their ancestors’ traditional religion. To accentuate this, all of the lyrics on Tukstantmetis are written in Lithuanian, although 2007 Ledo Takas re-issue thankfully has English translations for all the songs. The lyrics are a celebration of the nation’s religiously and politically independent past and of its struggles with its neighbours, especially the Christian Crusaders attempting to expand and force their alien religion upon the Lithuanians. A particularly interesting example is 997, the 1000-year anniversary tribute (Tukstantmetis was released in 1997) to the physical elimination of some Christian preacher who was spreading his beliefs in ancient Prussia.
Tukstantmetis is a pretty damn good album, having some very fascination historical themes within the lyrics and some great music to boot. However, it’s apparent that Obtest were still finding their sound at that point in their career. That said, this is good pagan black metal and is worth acquiring.