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Like a lumbering leviathan reawakened from an eternity of slumber, set free from its icy chains from chasms deep and mysterious - Vassafor rears its ugly head to crush once more. Forgiving the obvious Lovecraftian tones of this article, it is simply the imagery that Vassafor's debut full-length 'Obsidian Codex' gives; the image of a gargantuan beast hauled upwards through torturous depths, up from the sewers of the world and into the torturous light - only to swallow it whole in it's own monstrous and ugly darkness. In short, this is one of the darkest, unsettling and evillest records I have ever heard and I'll explain why.
As I mentioned before, this record has a very uncomfortable, unsettling feeling to it. To evoke Lovecraft again, it's as if there's something not quite right, something abhorrently 'against nature' yet something altogether ancient like Lovecraft's 'Old Ones'. There are some bizarre riffs which form haunting melodies that for all intents and purposes, are being summoned by VK's possessed mind. I also note that the man behind 'Ritual Noise' project Vanargandr works behind the scenes on the record, which supplements VK's vision of bizarre, uncomfortable-ness. Yet with this uncomfortable-ness, also comes a sense of triumphant-ness as I previously stated the darkness swallowing the light in defiant glee.
The music itself, as always with Vassafor, is highly creative and you can tell that VK has put a lot of time and effort into perfecting each composition, each part of a song with careful and meticulous care to his highest standard. The riffs ooze with black filthy sludge and they leave their dirty imprint on you for days long after. Interesting too is you can hear VK's influences permeate throughout the tracks yet rather than being a mere imitator, he has surpassed the originators of the style. For instance some tracks have a strong 'Beherit - Drawing Down the Moon' theme which I know can be trendy for 'Bestial' bands to do these days. The exception with Vassafor is that it captures that atmosphere completely - and outdoes it. With the doomier parts (which by the way are prevalent throughout and if you are not a fan of funeral doom then this may not be for you) you will hear elements of Thergothon, Skepticism and Bethlehem. On other tracks (particularly on Makutu - Condemned to Deepest Depths) you hear elements of the ritual-invoking and melodic riffage of Inquisition, early Rotting Christ, Varathron and Zemial. Obsidian Codex outdoes its masters and raises the benchmark for Evil Metal. Period.
More on the overall structure of the songs though. I mentioned that there are funeral doom-esque parts to the songs; these seem to melt and dissolve into rabid fast or mid-paced parts and then back into doomier territory but without sounding confused or lost. The structure of the songs sound very natural and purposeful - again a credit to VK's meticulous high standard of song-writing. You may also notice that a few of the songs have been recorded previously on other demo or promo releases. These songs have been almost being given a new visioning and although they sounded great on their previous releases - they have been given new 'life' on this record and really complement the album as a whole.
The production on the album complements the music perfectly. The vocals are just buried under the guitar, creating an effect of hidden menace underlying the music. It also, however channels the music and provides a dark current, seething underneath. The bass is bludgeoning and very present on the record - making an escape from traditional black metal records and more in-line with the bestial metal of the current years. The drums are restrained in the mix but I suspect this is purposeful as the drums are only there to provide the relevant artillery and retain the barbaric beat. BP (from fellow New Zealand feral Death/Grind band Malevolence) does a great job at this and his work is to be commended.
I'd like to comment on the lyrics but unfortunately VK has not included the lyrics for this release. Judging by his past releases and the care/judgement he puts into the music itself; I expect nothing short of the darkest thoughts penned since Jon Nodveit. I would like to point out for readers that are not from New Zealand or not familiar with the Maori (indigenous people of New Zealand) language. Makutu is the Maori word for a curse, spell or bewitchment which also demonstrates VK's homage to New Zealand and its barbaric past. Furthermore on this track in particular, no guitars were used but two basses. I had the pleasure of witnessing this track live when Vassafor opened for Inquisition in 2012, and I have to say unfortunately the album track does not do it justice. It was an absolute crushing wall of noise that suffice to say, if you get the chance to see Vassafor live - pray they play that song and pray you have the good fortune that you have the best earplugs and are furthest from the speakers when they play it. You will not survive the onslaught of noise otherwise.
Lastly, the only negative I can pull from this full-length is the artwork. I get that it's meant to be a sludgey, filthy, demonic creation, pulled from the depths of humanity but I do not think the artwork was as effective or as striking as the music therein contains. Regardless, if artwork is stopping you from listening to an album then you should probably kill yourself.
My final words on the album would be despite its length (it's a Double LP with an approximate hour and a half running time), it's a mesmerising album that pulls you in and you forget that time exists. The production is very analog so if you are listening to a download of this then you will miss the full experience of this album. Get the vinyl - it will serve you better.
People were right about the end of the world being in 2012 except they had the date wrong. It was December the 6th, 2012 when the Obsidian Codex was released. Buy this record now.
Praise Satan - Hail Vassafor!
666 stars out of 5.
[Originally posted on Subcide Webzine - http://subcide-webzine.blogspot.co.nz/2013_02_01_archive.html]
For the weak, I have a message: get the fuck out. Obsidian Codex is simply too much for you.
Those looking for an album which in any way caters to the casual or accommodates the uninitiated simply need not apply for this review or Obsidian Codex, the latest masterwork from New Zealand two piece Vassafor. The long running project, which formed in 1997 but has had a very irregular release history, have crafted a masterpiece so thrilling and mesmerizing that working through it's incomparably dense facade becomes a journey in and of itself. In fact, describing Obsidian Codex and it's 96 minute running time(you read that right) as a "journey" is about the best description I can formulate: Phil Kusabs and Ben Parker(known as VK and BP) take us on a musical adventure which features terrifying abominations, hellish landscapes and twisted black forests inundated with freezing snow, where moments of beauty and emotion are few but present, the driving force that keeps us on the path to this massive quest's ultimate conclusion. It is in no way an easy album to enjoy; it will pummel and suffocate all who challenge it, and test the endurance of anyone foolish enough to take it lightly. But it's also one of the most worthwhile musical experiences to be found in Extreme metal of any genre. Obsidian Codex is simply a masterpiece removed from needless classification beyond "awesome."
Stylistically, it's not hard to pick out the genres and artists which influenced Obsidian Codex, but everything here is put together in such a way that those influences feel like they are being transformed by Vassafor, molded and shaped into effective new tools for the song writing mechanism, beyond the well worn instruments that have been continuously reused for the same purpose again and again. At the most "brass-tacks" level, Vassafor could be described as "occult blackened death/doom," but such a classification simply misses the mark that the band has set with this album. The atmosphere is thick to the point of solidification, the creepiness of the compositions is so spine chilling that ice forms on the flesh and the unshakably somber moments, driven by smothered melodic leads and some deeply emotional compositions, brings about occasional moments of truly subdued beauty; a fallen angel, wings broken and flesh cleaved, laying amongst the ash and crying silver tears. Of course, Obsidian Codex has plenty of good old brutal, bestial and even thrash-y moments that reminds you that Mr. Kusabs has played with the likes of Blasphemy and Diocletain in his long musical career. And you can note that all of these elements are right in the very first actual song on the album, "Rites of Ascension," and continue to appear throughout the album, culminating in the truly epic monster known as "Nemesis," which starts with a short but incredible woodwind intro(unsure of the exact instrument) which sets the tone for a 23 minute epic of unparallelled proportions.
I've often complained about extremely long songs, and "Nemesis" certainly fits the bill of an incredibly elongated piece that runs the risk of going disastrously off the rails. But that's the glory of "Nemesis" and the other epically long tracks on Obsidian Codex: they are perfectly fleshed out with a combination of ambiance and ideas that they never grow stale or lose the listeners interest. Tracks dance between tempos and riffs with perfectly calculated brilliance, showing a level of song-writing which transcends what most artists could even hope to achieve. "Sunya(Void Paradox)" maintains a driving, aggressive rhythm throughout, showing a more take no prisoners approach to song writing that instigates furious bouts of relentless head-banging and stands in stark but effective contrast to the more Doom-y aspects of the record, while the aforementioned opening track "Rites of Ascension" features some truly horrific yet oddly haunting compositions which give off an unhinged and ritualistic intensity. And the final real track, Makutu(Damned to the Deepest Depths)" starts off with a tribal, ritualistic drum pattern before morphing into an unholy fusion of Blasphemy and Portal. And it ends with a slice of sludge, yeah sludge, which just adds icing to an already maggot ridden, gory cake of true nihilism All of these tracks are well over the 7 minute mark, yet never fail to entrance for a single moment. It's almost stupefying.
I mentioned the albums 96 minute running time, and that will automatically create a barrier of entry for many. Truth be told, I could see why a lot of people simply wouldn't like this album, or even hate it. Obsidian Codex is one of those albums where the creative direction of the artist is encapsulated to the point where it offers no leeway to the listener, a "my way or the high way" style of song-writing which some will find dull, others obnoxious or even offensive. Even the ambient tracks go for several minutes, and the album leans heavily on them to help intensify the already dense compositions. And while the production is fairly accessible, especially by the standards set in this particular genre, and many of the riffs invitingly familiar to fans of bands like Diocletain, Antediluvian or Mitochondrion, Obsidian Codex is an album defined by excess and disregard for the listeners time or sanity.
Yet for all of Obsidian Codex's excesses, for all of it's density and disregard, its an album built mostly on accessible, inviting riffs and enjoyable variety. Every track feels intertwined, yet all of them also feel distinct and unique when compared to each other. And while this album was clearly meant to be experienced front to back in one single sitting, each of the actual musical tracks on Obsidian Codex stand on their own feet and can be enjoyed and replayed independently of each the whole album experience. This is perhaps Obsidian Codex's greatest triumph, and a true rarity in this particular genre, where the whole album experience is the rule and playability is more often than not the exception.
I hesitate to use the word "perfection" here, but in many ways Obsidian Codex is the perfect album: perfect in it's atmospheric and thematic presentation, perfect in it's execution and musical competency, perfect in it's song-writing and production. Obsidian Codex is the ultimate realization of a single musical vision being shared by two musicians who are working as a single, cohesive creative force. It's an absolutely stunning album, one whose flaws are so few and far between that mentioning them is simply pointless beyond the need to be typed here; hyperbole be damned, Obsidian Codex is unlike anything I have ever heard.
originally posted at http://curseofthegreatwhiteelephant.blogspot.com/
The production on this album is quite obscure, with a layer of eerie whispers and snarls over a bassy, fuzzy guitar tone. The drums are comparatively quiet, but always audible, and the bass is equally easy to pick out of the mix.
Obsidian Codex is a brilliant blend of tremolo-picked atmosphere, aggressive riffing, and crushing doom. It's epic and heavy, triumphant and unsettling, and impossible to categorize. I've never heard such a convincing blend of second-wave black metal and the bestial black/death style, yet Obsidian Codex is beholden to neither -- Vassafor has blazed a new trail here, stretching far beyond anything they've ever recorded.
"Initium" consists of three minutes of ringing, distant echoes. I'm not usually fond of long intros, but this track is very effective. It's the perfect way to sink into the proper mood, and it's also an early signal that the short-attention-span crowd should look elsewhere. "Rites of Ascension"/"Obsidian King"/"Archeonaut's Return" swing between triumph, ferocity, and a feeling of oppression so heavy it'll knock you over. The contrast between the blasting parts and the massive, grandiose slow sections is excellent, as is the way the vocals float in the distance, half-heard and obscure. The result is deeply disquieting, the way so few black metal records are these days; by the end of "Archeonaut" there's a real sense of having stumbled onto something otherworldly, something dangerous. "Craft of Dissolution" is a little more straightforward, fast and ferocious until the catchy part comes in.
The slow, sick churn of "Nemesis" is worth every second of its nearly twenty-five minute length. The vocals really come into their own on this track, slithering between the huge, echoing riffs. Numerous tempo changes keep the whole thing moving forward, yet there's a recognizable theme throughout. The latter half builds a tremendous amount of atmosphere: it simply does not get heavier than this.
The last third of the album speeds things up again. "Sunya (Void Paradox)" will be familiar to those who bought the Promo MMX tape, but it's even more powerful in context, bristling with pick slides and rumbling bass. The industrial interlude which follows it provides a well-needed breath of fresh air, after which "Makutu (Condemned to Deepest Depths)" charges forward with a galloping rhythm and an arrogant, swaggering sound. The riff that comes in at around 5:40 is out-fucking-standing, the perfect payoff for the album! Then "Exitium" brings things back to the beginning, and it's time to play it again...
An hour and a half might seem too long for a record like this, but Obsidian Codex seems to stop the passage of time: it's mesmerizing, so much so that I can listen to it for hours. It rewards both everyday listening and close attention, as multiple spins reveal hidden details along with a wealth of memorable passages. This is an album for the ages... highest recommendations.
Standout Tracks: "Obsidian King", "Archeonaut's Return", "Nemesis", "Makutu (Condemned to Deepest Depths)"
Review by vorfeed: http://vorfeed.net