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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