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Wandering the Old Castle - 95%

Petrus_Steele, March 7th, 2020
Written based on this version: 2015, CD, 20 Buck Spin (Digipak)

While all Obsequiae‘s releases are second to none, Aria of Vernal Tombs remains their strongest. The band moved on to a more castling atmosphere, with amazing melodies from the harp. For the harp, the band recruited one Vicente La Camera Mariño to play the harp melodies, and that’s where Tanner perfected his direction. Using multiple languages for the titles was quite the impression, some which use French and Latin.

Still recording seven electric songs that six of them are above five minutes (except for the oddly titled Wilweorthunga which was the most extreme song) and four instrumentals. All I can say is that they’re better than the debut album’s. The prelude being the best of the bunch, the latter tracks (excluding the last one) didn’t bode well with me. L’amour dont Sui Espris is the longest, but also sounded like it’s got no direction; more of a background music. The Anchoress’s Orison was as pretty as the prelude, but you can just tune in to the prelude again because its length offers more of the harp’s melodies. In other, honest words, it’s getting repetitive. The last instrumental sounded like the second track, but it has richer, low-tone melodies which is already a win.

Thanks to “choiring” and euphoric keyboards, this made the delivery of each song unique, powerful, and exciting. The guitars have vastly improved in the melodic aspect, the drums are crushing, the bass’s mix is perfect, and Tanner only betters his vocal approach. As Autumnal Pyre was my introduction to the band, I would never guess the music would be that great. For this album in particular, it’s only electrifying. The melodies are stronger than ever, that they won’t stop you from headbanging. Until All Ages Fall is a great example of that. Specifically, I liked the electric power-chording rhythms. Even the drums work was superb. Pools of Vernal Paradise incredible guitar intro would not leave you without an ounce of goosebumps. The song only gets better and runs through you after the first minute, as the drums blast in, as Tanner’s shrieks forces you into the song’s melodies. Even the bass gets heavier as the song progresses. This immediately became my favorite song from the album. Another honorable mention is In the Absence of Light for its heavier use of keyboards and featuring Aaron Carey and Gary Vu for extra guitar and vocals. The former musician would appear again as a co-lead vocalist on the closing song Orphic Rites of the Mystic, giving it a traditional black metal sound. The song itself isn’t saying goodbye just yet. Its grooves would make you sit down and listen closely to the magnificence of the guitar work.

I can’t recommend this masterpiece enough. It’s one of the finest, innovative, and fascinating black metal record from a very experimental band. And despite not liking two out of the four instrumental tracks, I think it’s still a perfect record and arguably topping their Autumnal Winds demo Venerari Sacra Mysteria. The best songs are Autumnal Pyre, Until All Ages Fall, Pools of a Vernal Paradise, Anlace and Heart, and Orphic Rites of the Mystic.

Resonant strings of devotion - 100%

goflotsam, January 28th, 2020

Obsequiae is a melodic black metal band from Minnesota, which is a huge coincidence since Minnesota is the Scandinavia of the United States. The album from them I'm reviewing here is Aria of Vernal Tombs. It's the second full-length in Obsequiae's discography, and basically the record that put the band on the map. And this is not going into full detail about their career as Autumnal Winds. Regardless, this is probably one of the more interesting black metal albums from 2015.

To imagine that Aria of Vernal Tombs will be five years old this year is rather mind blowing. The album presents itself as melodic black metal with elements of medieval folk metal and medieval classical music within its sound. This distinct sound gives Aria of Vernal Tombs an epic feel to it as songs like "Autumnal Pyre" sound like they're made for fighting on the battlefield. Another thing worth noting is the four instrumentals, each instrumental sounds beautiful, breathtaking, and adds some variety in an album consisting mostly of melodic black metal songs. When you listen to Aria of Vernal Tombs all together, the eleven songs perfectly flow into one another making it a concept album.

I like how Obsequiae is an American black metal band influenced by melodic black metal bands like Windir. It's an interesting concept. As such, Tanner Anderson's vocals do not detract from the rather melancholic guitars that are being utilized throughout Aria of Vernal Tombs. This is definitely true with "Until All Ages Fall", in which Anderson's haunting vocals are not the main focus, his guitar playing is. The usage of a medieval harp, courtesy of Vicente La Camera Mariño makes Aria of Vernal Tombs a unique listen, as it is an uncommon instrument in metal, especially American folk metal. You also won't find many blast beats on here since I've pointed out that the Scandinavian influence is very prominent on Aria of Vernal Tombs. Regardless, Andrew Della Cagna is well versatile behind the drum kit and will use blast beats in some songs like "Pools of a Vernal Paradise". Being the first Obsequiae album on 20 Buck Spin certainly helps the band's critical and commercial exposure.

So what do you get when Obsequiae signs to 20 Buck Spin and released an album in 2015. You get Aria of Vernal Tombs, one of the best black metal albums of said year and quite possibly one of the strongest overall albums of 2015. Five years later, this is still one of the finest albums within melodic black metal and is definitely on par with some of Windir's classics, particularly Arntor and 1184. Aria of Vernal Tombs contains a perfect balance between aggression, beauty, and melancholy that only the listener can truly appreciate. If you haven't heard of or listened to Obsequiae, I would start here and check out their other two records. You won't be disappointed.

Elevated folk metal - 80%

we hope you die, October 14th, 2019

At its most fundamental level, music is a form of pre-verbal communication. Compared to the precision of language it is clumsy and open to multiple interpretations, but in its rightful domain of emotional and instinctive expression words do not compare. Throughout most of history, it was something that everyone could engage with, both as musician and listener. With the formalisation of western music during the Renaissance the maestro was born, and music became a spectator sport. People would watch professional musicians write and perform ever more complex pieces. Some composers were able to blend this with music of universal human appeal, using their mastery of music theory to the end of art. Others, although technically proficient, never moved beyond an impressive display of finger exercises. The rise pop music in the 20th century only exacerbated the idea that musicians existed on stage; playing and writing music was an exclusive pursuit. Only recently has this trend started to decline with the direct communication between fan and artist facilitated by the internet (the full repercussions of this may be a discussion for another day however).

'Aria of Vernal Tombs' is pleasing, well executed, and more or less original. BUT, I cannot help but think that the cart has come before the horse. It is so stylised, so focused on a specific aesthetic and theme, that it almost feels like it was generated by algorithms and not artistic compulsion. Cruel as this assessment may be, it's nevertheless noteworthy pieces of music that I find myself drawn to.

Minneapolis is not what springs to mind when one thinks of melodic, medieval, folk/black metal. Yet here they are, Obsequiae, going round releasing music like it’s all fine. Their second full-length offering, ‘Aria of Vernal Tombs’ (2015) is a highly polished and competent attempt to marry traditional medieval rhythms and melodies to conventional rock instrumentation. Aside from the odd harp interlude, it is noteworthy that AOVT is largely an album of guitars, bass, and drums.

Instead of playing a particular stripe of metal, and adding fiddles and flutes over the top and calling it ‘folk metal’, Obsequiae have actually lifted traditional medieval rhythms and melodies and applied them to the guitar and drum setup. Although this has been done before, most notably with Summoning, Obsequiae have carried this a step further, and have clearly taken their role as musical historians to heart in the process.

The result is a bizarre exercise in not just melodic metal but metal’s history as well. For instance, if at times the guitar licks are reminiscent of power metal it is because power metal often borrowed from the same pool of influences. In delving into history, we learn more about the techniques metal used to transcend its blues and jazz routes. It is powerful and uplifting metal, that offers an array of interweaving melodies and rhythms for the avid listener. So refined is the sense of melody that if it weren’t for the vocals I would question whether we could even call this black metal.

It’s an idea I have laboured on when it comes to this neofolk black metal wave that Summoning inspired. The music is so melodic and atmospheric that one wonders whether something as aggressive and unrefined as the traditional black metal screech is even appropriate, even when covered with vocal effects. The music on ‘Aria of Vernal Tombs’ is complex enough to be instrumental, so why continue to marry it to a black metal aesthetic at all? Even if at one point in the dark past that’s where its routes lay.

Whilst overall AOVT is a pleasing listen, I cannot help but wonder how much heart has gone into it. It is so stylised, so focused on creating this reimaging of metal exclusively through the lens of the past, despite using plenty of modern techniques (not least the instruments themselves), that the spectre of shallow novelty looms.

I won’t labour this point too much as this is a very well-made LP that remains in my regular rotation, but there is such a thing as overly stylising the lily. Whilst it’s true one cannot simply wake up one morning and write music without first deciding what instruments to use, and what techniques to practice, these in turn will go some way to defining your ‘genre’ for want of a better word. However, the other side of this coin is setting everything up down to the intricacies of the theory behind your chosen style, and then proceeding to write within these self-imposed limitations. The obvious risk being that the end result is a flawlessly executed product devoid of spontaneity and freedom.

It runs that gauntlet between boredom with just enough heart to elevate it above similar examples of this style. When all is said and done I believe the issue with it is not so much a lack of originality but a lack of danger. It's composed and delivered by highly competent musicians, but the risk (and therefore the risk of failure) that makes great music great is lacking. There is no freedom and no surprise. However, Obsequiae remains intriguing not least because they buck the trend in the realm of folk metal by opting to shelve the keyboards and the flutes and rather transpose folk and medieval melodies onto electric guitars. The backbone of the music itself is written in these historic styles, unlike an Eluveitie who just spew out pop rock accompanied by a folk ensemble and call it a genre.

Originally published at Hate Meditations

The Rebirth of the Middle Ages - 90%

Acrobat, May 27th, 2017
Written based on this version: 2015, CD, 20 Buck Spin (Digipak)

From the unlikely locale of Minneapolis, inspired the more verdant loins of our ancient Europe - or "Y'r'p" you're an American - comes forth a sound and a melodicism that was recalls the old masters Solstice, Summoning (that one might need some clarification) Rotting Christ and, even, a twinge of In Flames circa The Jester Race. With this album, the sole offering from Obsequiae that has blessed my ears and I release that I must seek out the debut, they've really crafted something quite unique. It's akin to the growth and sprouting of flowers and greenery from a rich and fertile soil after the long, dark winter. A new fire rekindling something you thought you'd forgotten; like the bizarre euphoria after an hour's vomiting or, perhaps, the first shag after a comparative dry spell.

Refreshing. Erotic. Somewhat exotic.

Indeed, the sound is gloriously fresh and yet its own roots can be traced back to our strong European metallic tradition. Its folkish melodies recall that of Professor RH Walker on New Dark Age, whereas the layering can recall the classier end of upmarket, gentleman's melodic death metal (again, I'm going to be bold and state The Jester Race as the closest comparison here, but that's really a strong album despite the band who made it) and the layering and odd-ball production choices of Summoning. The guitar sound itself is something quite unusual; it seems to be pitch-shifted ever so slightly as if they were wishing to offer an updated version of a medieval instrument that I have never heard of before. Harmonious and spirited, it's a fantastically metallic and original sound. My only real grumble would be the artificial drum sound; if on any subsequent release Obsequiae sorted this out, whilst maintaining the same level of quality, they'd be approaching sonic perfection.

The song writing itself tends to offer more of "variations on a theme" rather than boldly diverse compositions than break their established mould. If I were to pick highlights, it would be 'Anlace and Heart', which serves as a concise summary of the album itself; gloriously melodic, with a strong sense of direction and progression throughout each composition. The leads, too, recall the 'Età dell'oro' of 90s melodic twiddly guitars in which the economy was strong enough to support the endless studious worship of the guitar harmony for teenagers all across Europe (Y'r'p). The vocals tend to take a backseat on this album, somewhat, but this, too, was a wise choice as it tends to highlight the interplay of the guitars as they twist and weave their into your brain.

Modern classic. Big things predicted. Please don't break up like all my other favourite newer bands. It's been on a constant loop since 2015 and that's not too usual for me with a modern album. Also, where is that monastery? It could be in Yorkshire.

"Fine dining and breathing..." - 65%

MutantClannfear, June 26th, 2016
Written based on this version: 2015, CD, 20 Buck Spin (Digipak)

Aria of Vernal Tombs is metal's response to Squilliam Fancysun. To my recollection, there are two episodes in SpongeBob Squarepants's pre-movie run where Squidward attempts to one-up his old rival by passing himself off as more successful and having done more with his life than become a cashier at a greasy spoon. One of these attempts actually works well, in "Band Geeks", but Obsequiae's modus operandi reminds me more of SpongeBob in "Squilliam Returns", where Squidward tries in vain to pass off the Krusty Krab as his own five-star restaurant. SpongeBob is hypnotized into the perfect waiter, obsequiously (heh) catering to customers' needs with unseen finesse, but falls flat on his face with more practical matters like remembering his name. I think that sums up this particular album quite well.

This album is certainly unique, and nobody in their right mind would ever attempt to deny the band that descriptor. The best word that comes to mind for the entire sound is "gilded": the guitars are carved out, thin and cloaked in beautiful hazy reverb, gold-leafed. Look, don't touch. With this highbred tone they construct delicate medieval-tinged melodies that spin and twirl with inconceivable grace, seamlessly merging an ancient aesthetic with decidedly modern music in a way that few other bands playing similar music can muster. This, unlike practically anything else in metal, feels like a sincere translation of an antiquated mood to modern times and informed with the modern techniques needed to captivate listeners. In other words, I'm fairly sure my grandparents could get some mileage out of this disc.

Normally when bands carve out their guitars, they fill the space with bass, but the low end in Aria is quite unassuming. It seems to be avoiding possibly imposing on the emphasis given to the gleaming chords, romantic harmonized leads and guitar solos that nearly constantly bound on the firmanent of the album's sound. The space seems to have instead been filled by the vocals, a monotonous but potent hoarse howl, full of air, like the death rattle of a corpse carried on the wind. The harp interludes are all beautiful as well, sounding like separated movements of a single improvisational piece and providing some (sometimes well-needed) breaks from the black metal material.

To be sure, it's interesting work, and it commands commendation on that basis alone. In principle, this is the breath of fresh air that black metal needs rather than the Human Centipede-like trail of Finnish riff fellators that hogs so much attention. While I wholly acknowledge that Obsequiae are onto something brilliant here, I don't feel that the album as a whole derives the maximum potential out of this sound. It feels a bit intentionally restricted at times, to the band's detriment. It's like the band have typified themselves into a corner, so to speak - "no, we can't add that riff/that beat/that idea, it's not Obsequiae enough" - and Aria of Vernal Tombs feels rather incestuous at times as a result. Put simply, the songs sound too similar to one another. The album stays at a pretty consistent mid-tempo, occasionally breaking into blast speed but rarely ever when it's actually needed to break up the monotony of the pacing. A lone exception might be "Wilweorthunga", the only black metal song on the album that doesn't breach the five-minute mark (in fact, it's around half the length of all the others), which acknowledges that its brevity justifies a more immediate sense of dynamics and urgency. All the other metal tracks are good, but nearly indistinguishable.

Another major problem arises in the nature of the riffs themselves. Obsequiae are actually a quite technical band by black metal standards, and if you were to arrange the genre as a whole in a percentile ranking, these guys would be the black metal analog of Brain Drill. That's fine by me, but Brain Drill have a secondary purpose, that being to simply overwhelm the listener, and it works for them because they're a death metal outfit. Obsequiae don't have that going for them, so you're more easily reminded that the hundreds of harmonized licks that populate this album simply aren't very memorable. They all seem like permutations of the same single base riff, stretched out and turned into half an hour's worth of material. It's comparable to Wintersun in a way in that one gets the feeling there are no real outliers of speed (or lack thereof), majesty, or aggression anywhere on the album, which objectively isn't true, but the music itself is homogeneous enough to give that impression.

Is Aria a beautiful album? Hell yes, it is - it's downright gorgeous. But it's all atmosphere and has little to show for actual moments. Like an excavated ancient church with no worshipers remaining in it, it's been hollowed out and is quite impressive upon first glance, and if you make a noise inside of it it'll sound pretty, but nothing is actively occurring inside that would give you a reason to stand inside of it for 44 minutes straight. This could have been improved either by releasing it as a three-song EP or by adding catchier riffs, a larger sense of dynamics, more blast beats and so on. Either of those would've preserved the sacred Song-to-Idea Ratio which guarantees a listener's continued interest in your music throughout its duration. In its current state, it's a brainwashed SpongeBob: emptied of anything that doesn't have to do with fine dining and breathing, forgetting its own name in the process.

Of Moss and Magic - 95%

GuntherTheUndying, December 28th, 2015

The term ‘medieval metal’ sounds to me like one of those catchphrases that ride alone on a gimmick without any shred of musical dignity (see also: extreme majestic technical epic melodic metal). Obsequiae is the first and last word on this hazy subgenre if it does indeed exist. Obsequiae’s first album, I thought, was an incredible effort finding a natural, unforced balance between black metal and the warmth of lush medieval melodies. “Aria of Vernal Tombs” puts into perspective just how meticulous and detailed the entity of Obsequiae is, as it manages to take the successful foundations of “Suspended in the Brume of Eos” and build upon them with unparalleled astuteness. It possesses the creative and instrumental poise of one of the boldest records to come out in recent times, barking up the tree of a masterpiece.

The spirit of “Suspended in the Brume of Eos” lives in this album, though with more composure; the ‘medieval’ melodies integrated into the melodically-charged roots of black metal create something that is remarkably smooth for such a union. Describing what the group does in practical terms has me walking on eggshells. However, I’ll say I’d describe “Aria of Vernal Tombs” the same way I’d explain Dark Souls to some loser who hasn’t played it yet: its style and themes aren’t per se open-ended, but seamless in a convoluted sense without becoming a tangled mess. Calling the melodies and high-quality riffs images of Dissection or Sacramentum seen through a grassy, meditative lens isn’t necessarily incorrect, but it fails to conceptualize more than a taste of the wide, poignant melting pot that is “Aria of Vernal Tombs.” Obsequiae eclipses words; they need to be experienced to be grasped.

As performers, there is much to admire. The harsh shrieks have grown from “Suspended in the Brume of Eos” and adapt smoothly to the overall sound. The lead guitars are stunning—solos of majestic depth are thrown everywhere, each one carefully crafted and dripping enchantment. Spaced out among the record are brief instrumentals featuring nothing but a medieval harp, and they are absolutely phenomenal. Reflected in its affecting arrangements is the soul of this band, spoken not through harsh vocals or superb melodies but the affecting murmur of an instrument long since forgotten. It’s rare to find interludes that are vital, let alone tolerable, yet the quality of these tracks are as layered and full as the actual songs.

The guest vocal slot on “Orphic Rites of the Mystic” and “In the Absence of Light” filled by Aaron Carey of Nechochwen et al. carries a different brand of shriek from Obsequiae’s usual outputs, which are, needless to say, excellent. Carey has enough nuances in his vocals to divide him from the customary harsh shouts without throwing off the level already set by Obsequiae’s performances. The vocals from whatever source merely stand to replicate the mossy, contemplative melodies and instrumental themes coursing through “Aria of Vernal Tombs” with unmatched guile. You are pretty much doing yourself a huge disservice by ignoring Obsequiae and their incredible interpretation of ‘medieval metal.’ If anything, Obsequiae is really the only band that falls under its banner that doesn’t wield half-assed humor to make up for the chasm of bottomless crap that is the usual standard for this kind of thing.

This review was written for:

Who Knew Harp Could Be So Badass? - 97%

Thumbman, September 20th, 2015

I’ll be completely honest; I was a bit hesitant checking out Obsequiae due to the “Medieval metal” tag that often gets associated with their name. While much of Medieval-tinged metal comes off more renaissance fair goofballs drunk on mead more than anything, this band takes on a much more serious approach. Drawing inspiration from the actual classical music of the time and melding it with soaring metal melodies, Aria of the Vernal Tombs is easily one of the best things to come out of 2015 so far.

While Suspended in the Brume of Eos offered some very fresh ideas and is a great record in its own right, they’ve really hit their stride and fully realized their vision on the sophomore. Although it’s easy to be weary of a band polishing up their sound as their career moves on, it seems like a very logical step in Obsequiae’s case. While this is about as accessible as you can get in extreme metal, the introduction of shinny production doesn’t come pre-packaged with a high dose of sterility – this actually works wondrously with their sound. Although this is unmistakably more uplifting and, well, fun than the debut, the main reason the production works so well is the melodies. They’re the triumphant, soaring from-the-mountaintops sort of leads that beg for a big, clean sound. While the vocals still fit the bill and aesthetical similarities remain, it would be a bit of a stretch to call this a black metal album. The tremolo lines from the first album are all but eradicated. If anything, a lot of this material seems like it could fit under the “dark metal” (for lack of better term) umbrella.

While their vast array of specific influences could be nitpicked for ages, there’s really no point trying to construct the whole web because they blend them all into their own unique sound so seamlessly. However, there is one in particular I’d like to point out that I feel hasn’t been picked up on very much. There are lots of melodies that almost seem like they could have come straight out of Agalloch’s Pale Folklore (not completely surprising, I suppose, as Anderson is in Celestiial as well as a side project with Agalloch’s bassist). While these tend to be more a little less melancholy, they still strike a remarkable resemblance. They both have this nice smoky feel to them and conjure autumn imagery. In fact, despite their medieval leanings, this album seems to evoke forest imagery more than anything; although I suppose an old rustic castle could be lurking in those woods (hence why the cover is perfect).

While the classical guitar interludes on the debut were awesome, Obsequiae have really taken it to the next level with the sophomore. Brining in Spanish harpist Vicente La Camera Mariño to perform four interludes is perhaps their best idea for this album. While lending a deep sense of legitimacy to their Medieval association, they also just sound really damn awesome. They’re stunningly beautiful, expertly performed and most of all completely fit the vibe of the album while giving it a little breathing room. It would be interesting to see if in future releases if they try to mix it somehow into the metal. Although this would be pretty damn hard to pull off, and it would be completely understandable if they opted to keep it separate like former label-mates Panopticon chose to do with black metal and bluegrass banjo.

More than anything, this is proof that very accessible, melodic extreme metal with slick production qualities doesn’t always merit a one-way ticket to the garbage bin. An uplifting triumph, this takes the formula they laid out in the debut and perfects it. While there’s certainly less dirt around the edges, they get everything right here from the songwriting to the potent melodies. The Medieval thing is no gimmick, and Obsequiae have put out what just might be the best album of 2015.

Not quite as brilliant as the debut. - 74%

ConorFynes, September 12th, 2015

Even if there were nothing else to praise about Obsequiae, I think their grip of style would be enough to sell the band on its own. There is little wonder why so many black metal musicians are drawn to the Middle Ages; and scarcely surprising that so many of amongst them have tried to incorporate that aesthetic into their own work somehow. The reason Obsequiae stand out is the sheer extent they've incorporated Western Medieval musical tradition into their music. Generally speaking, they really do sound like a chamber group, drawn from some castle hall a thousand years removed from our own world, and amplified a hundredfold with the excesses of modern sonic artillery.

Even with such a great formula in their hands, a unique style can quickly become a gimmick without the substance behind it. Obsequiae proved with Suspended in the Brume of Eos that they were far from a gimmick; rather, their songwriting inferred a powerful understanding of Medieval musical tropes going far beyond the surface level. If you've heard the name Obsequiae before, it's near-certain you've heard them spoken of with a certain reverence that's usually only reserved for longstanding legends. When all's said, Suspended in the Brume of Eos was the kind of album that wholly deserved that reaction. Obsequiae's style is too exact, specific and otherwise nichey for them to have any real competitors, so all that was left was to see where they would be going thereafter.

As the Medieval chamber ensemble Vox Vulgaris lovingly mocked in the title of their own debut The Shape of Medieval Music to Come, historically-bound styles don't tend to evolve much over time, so the fact that Aria of Vernal Tombs draws from many of the same tricks isn't surprising. The way Obsequiae use those tricks may have shifted slightly, but the fact stands that their second album conjures much of the same atmosphere and experience as its predecessor. Again, I'm impressed by how deeply the band are able to induct themselves into their source material. Unlike so many would-be folk-black metal projects, Obsequiae cannot possibly be distinguished from their extracurricular inspirations. Aria of Vernal Tombs doesn't shine quite so brightly as its predecessor, but nonetheless this album has an easy time standing out amidst its contemporaries. This is Medieval black metal done right, and nothing more or less than that.

A second album is always doomed to contend with its predecessor somehow; in most cases, the expectation's that a band is going to find a way to improve upon the formula they first came out with. While it obviously lacks the refreshing shock of the debut, I think Aria of Vernal Tombs has taken further lengths towards consolidating the Medieval aspect into their sound. Where Suspended in the Brume of Eos played around with different song structures a little more, Aria of Vernal Tombs hinges on jaunting grooves, the likes of which are indelibly associated to the style and period. Tanner Anderson's wind-laden howls may see fit to place Obsequiae within a black metal canon, but the genre-tag otherwise doesn't seem to fit, now more than ever. The guitar tone on Aria of Vernal Tombs is one of the cleanest I've heard fuelling a metal album- let a lone a black metal album- and the purely consonant lilt to their melodies has an indisputably uplifting tone. While I've tried to distance Obsequiae's sound at least partly from what I already know of Medieval music, the arrangements here could easily be adapted to fit a bona fide chamber ensemble. The fusion of genres here is so evenly split and integral that looking at Arial of Vernal Tombs primarily as a metal album feels like it would be missing part of the point.

Structurally, the album is characterized by its juggling between full-bodied tracks and a series of harp interludes. This isn't unlike the way Agalloch interspersed The Serpent & The Sphere with a host of classical guitar pieces. Given the way the songwriting here is more homogeneously upbeat and groove-oriented than the debut, it was a stroke of brilliance to make breaks to highlighted the underrated half of their sound. Much the way I felt with The Serpent & The Sphere, I would have been happy to hear an entire album full of these interludes. Vicente La Camera Mariño performs with a haunting authenticity; the recording is appropriately plain, but the resonance makes it sound like the performance was captured in the bowels of a monastery.

The 'interludes' are possibly Aria of Vernal Tombs' brightest artistic choice. In truth, were it not for the harp segments, I could see Obsequiae's metal traits growing too familiar sooner than they should. Ultimately, this is the sort of second album where the band has distilled their best elements and ideas down to a more refined essence; in going without their secondary dynamics and 'unnecessary' elements however, Aria of Vernal Tombs gets to sounding pretty samey. Most of the album is fixed on the same Medieval troubadour groove, the same use of mid-paced lead guitar, the same quasi-ambient vocals buried halfway into the mix. In terms of sheer execution, I think this new lineup has harnessed the style with even greater precision. If Obsequiae have generally improved as a band, I don't think it's translated into a better album overall. I don't find myself quite as enthralled as I was with Suspended in the Brume of Eos. It's not a matter of style here-- quite the opposite, in fact. Obsequiae have amplified their niche to the point where the songwriting hinges upon it. For a band and sound as distinctive as this, that's not necessarily a bad thing, but it's certainly not the formula for an album that's going to trump a brilliant predecessor.

To put it shortly, I don't think Aria of Vernal Tombs offers the same boldness and excitement as the debut. Obsequiae have become ensnared by their greatest strengths, and they've let those strengths dictate where their sound will go. If it's a step in the right direction for this band, it hasn't come without its setbacks. While the set of new priorities has meant the difference between an album that's very good, and one that might have stuck in my head for months to come, I cannot ultimately hold Obsequiae at fault for anything they've produced here. Aria of Vernal Tombs may have been confronted with the highest expectations, and it managed to match most of them. A few months from now, this will still stand among the year's brighter achievements in black metal, folk metal, and, certainly not least of all, the Medieval niche these guys have come close to monopolizing.

Originally written for Heathen Harvest Periodical.

2015 AOTY - 99%

caspian, September 8th, 2015

It's hard not to wax eloquently about the superb lyrics, wonderful musicianship, lush, verdant atmosphere, fantastic guitar tone etc that pervades this album- and far better writers have done so than me. I think one thing that they've tended to forget is that, all the high faluting thoughts about the music aside, that this is a really fun album.

Quick counter example- Neurosis. Through Silver in Blood, obviously a masterpiece, very deep and meaningful, but I can't really think of many riffs that got me going beyond, what, the title track, locust star, maybe the cool end of Aeon? I dearly love that album, but sometimes it's good if you can have something that's a bit profound while also just being super pretty. Obsequiae's Aria is that super smart supermodel, that actress who's got a PhD, whatever.

It's in the melody, the way the guitars bounce off each other. Fitting the overgrown greenery vibe that's throughout, everything is just stuffed full of the coolest sounding notes these guys could think of. Autumnal Pyre is a really really really really happy Sacramentum with a bunch of spellbinding leads, Orphic Rites uses all these great higher register notes that explode from the fuzzy mire like a bad metaphor about blooming plants, while Absence of light cheerfully spends a few minutes noodling itself into blissful oblivion. It's all very noodly, with all these very notey riffs and a big tendency for the songs to follow the narrative thread that the lyrics put forth; hard to pull off but here it's done with superb aplomb.

You could definitely describe this album as those oppressive, heavy castles that Sacramentum built with Far Away From the Sun getting ruined and overgrown by a particularly enthusiastic forest, but I'm not entirely convinced that description does this album justice. I think these guys are better at really building a story with the songs, and it's hard to think of a single transition/tempo change that's even remotely awkward... It's a very smooth album.

Finally, the lyrics really are fantastic and the whole medieval-europe-and-nature mix is an endlessly fascinating and enchanting topic, done justice by the fascinating and enchanting music here. The blending of medieval Christianity (in the polyphonies, general modes, etc) and nature worship/mysticism works really well, and perhaps far less awkwardly then it did one thousand or so years ago! I'm not too inclined to share my rambling thoughts on the matter as I'm not an expert... I would just recommend you listen to this album so you can come up with your rambling ones.

Supremely enjoyable, beguiling, enchanting, endlessly interesting. I think I've raved enough. Cheers!

Top Album of 2015! - 95%

NeillBird, June 3rd, 2015
Written based on this version: 2015, CD, 20 Buck Spin (Digipak)

Black/dark metal standouts Obsequiae already had a home-run of a debut record entitled Suspended In The Brume Of Eos back in 2011. That album combined beautiful instrumental tracks with some expertly played black metal-esque tracks. Coming back after a long hiatus, this Minnesota trio is ready to once again show that they are a top act in the underground scene with their second album, (and 20 Buck Spin debut), Aria Of Vernal Tombs. With even more musical story telling and precise playing by all members, this record not only outdoes the prior effort, but has outdone a lot of records released this year.

The opening harp intro is one of the more fantastical pieces the band has composed, and sets the table wonderfully for the record to come. The images of the Middle Ages and King Author immediately come to mind, which is just furthered by the stunning artwork. Once the second track begins, the album undertakes an incredible journey though the lands, and shows song after song why this act is among the top in the genre. The guitars feel brighter than the debut record, which fits the music and feeling quite well here. There is an airiness to the music, and especially in the vocals due to the very noticeable echo. Technically speaking, the band has not let up in anyway, with the guitars conjuring up some incredibly catchy riffs, and utterly beautiful harmonies and licks. The drumming never gets out of hand, choosing to stay in more of a mid-pace or even slower at times. The bass can feel somewhat thin, but still adds a wonderful layer to the music and helps the record maintain a groove all its own. The third track, “Until All Ages Fall” is a perfect example of these elements, and also happens to be a personal standout track on this opus along with the closer.

There are still instrumental tracks on this sophomore release as well, and those too feel more thought-out and narrative-like. The harp continues to make appearances in these shorter tracks, and add some amazing atmosphere while showcasing some very proficient playing. Despite the slower nature of these pieces, they never feel out of place and come off as traditional sounding Middle Age songs. The instrumental works just add to the aesthetic of the band that much more. Not only do these pieces compliment the record as a whole, but they are some of the better works in the band’s catalogue.

As mentioned before, the vocals are quite echo-y, which makes one pay attention to the production and mixing on the record. While certainly not raw in the sense of sounding like a home recording, there is still a nice natural feeling to Aria. These three men are able to capture the aura they want in their music, and push forward their tales through some airy music, while not needing to destroy the listener with such a clean saccharine sound. The mixing is possibly the only slight flaw of the record, as it would be nice to get a little more bass but the overall quality of the music presented here speaks so well for itself that a slight lack of bass is a very minor gripe.

Obsequiae have created an album that is filled to the brim with passion and mystical imagery. One listen will have the listener hooked, while repeated spins will truly show that this is a trio of immense talent. The well thought-out and paced songwriting, the flow of the album from the heavier to the soft and back, and the utter brilliance of the closing track make Aria Of The Vernal Tomb an easy recommendation. Melodic without being cheesy or "gaze-y" and with enough wizardry to please technical fans, this second release stands as having something for most everyone, and this is one of the easiest listening experiences I have had in quite some time. Expect to hear more about this record throughout the year.

Originally written for The Metal Observer

Obsequiae delves further into the past - 83%

Inabayama, June 1st, 2015

At long last, Obsequiae have delivered a followup to their debut full length "Suspended in the Brume of Eos". Since hearing their debut years ago and enjoying it’s medieval-tinged take on black/death/doom metal, I eagerly awaited another release. I also hoped that they would attract the attention of a bigger label (as much as I love many Bindrune releases), and improve upon many of the undesirable production aspects featured on "Suspended". Despite the debut having a great many flaws (length, lack of variation, production, etc), it was still full of incredible moments and unique songwriting, and it unfortunately flew under the radar of many. It seemed that many also failed to pick up on the sparser medieval aspects of "Suspended", although I heard terms like “Grecian-style” black metal thrown around frequently, due to obvious influences in much of the album’s song writing. "Aria of Vernal Tombs" shows Obsequiae continuing from where "Suspended" left off, and progressing leagues ahead in the process. Most of the issues on "Suspended" have been addressed, and remedied here.

Upon hearing the beautiful harp strings of “Ay Que por Muy Gran Fremosura” the first track off "Aria", it is immediately clear that Obsequiae’s medieval compositional stylings have returned and are far beyond what was found on the debut. Harp/acoustic pieces bookend standard metal tracks that, much like "Suspended", sit on the fence between several styles, such as black, death, and doom. Every acoustic piece is bathed in gentle reverb and echo, and each metal track is clear and triumphant. Unlike the debut, where the medieval stylings were confined to the interludes and a small handful of metal tracks, "Aria" embraces medieval composition at every level, including every metal track. In addition to the music itself, many of the song titles evoke the middle ages through language itself, with what I would guess to be a mixture of medieval ancestors of French, among other things. On "Suspended", Obsequiae ditched archaic medieval languages in favor simpler fare, even when the music itself was directly taken from a medieval composition, such as the track “Sidhe”, which is a variation of the medieval piece “Stella Splendens”. "Aria" seems to forgo the pussyfooted approach of the debut and instead doubles down, going straight back to the source.

At it’s core, "Aria" is true medieval-influenced metal, a style that, at this point, doesn’t really exist in any definite way. Many bands classified under the massive umbrella of “folk” metal would probably claim to be “medieval metal” or wear medieval trappings on their sleeves, embracing the period aesthetic in lyrics, artwork, and, costume. Yet, almost none of these bands have truly created anything even remotely resembling medieval music. Which is what makes Obesequiae fundamentally unique. Rather than taking an approach that is common in much of what could be classified as “folk” metal, where a mishmash of folk instruments (or poor sounding digital synth facsimiles of folk instruments) play along with standard metal riffing and rhythm, Obsequiae use a completely traditional no frills metal set-up to create medieval music from the most foundational compositional level. Aside from the harp interludes, only standard metal staples are used, and with this limited toolkit, Obsequiae manage to achieve something that is not only incredibly enjoyable and exciting to listen to, but also progressive and almost avant-garde. By staying within the realm of tried and true classic metal, this album is able to transcend, making a bold statement.

There is not much to criticize about this album, however, while listening to "Aria", it’s easy to be instead slightly conflicted. The things mentioned that make Obsequiae groundbreaking also make me feel personally left wanting more. For example, I often find myself wishing that the harp interludes were included in the main tracks. Instead of bookending songs, having the interlude take place between two epic movements in a single track would be great. Having more powerful drums would also be a boon, with the drumming on Aria being a bit soft. More desirable would be something more akin to the standout drum production on Lantlos’ recent "Melting Sun". I also find myself wishing for longer songs with more common “experimental” elements and atmosphere. Something resembling the atmosphere of Agalloch at their most far flung reaches. However, these tendencies are not Obsequiae. Drum production aside, adding these ideas to Obsequiae’s composition would go against the grain of who they are at this point, and despite my desires, this band is a great total package. Maybe the more atmospheric and experimental medieval banner can be taken up by other artists. Overall, "Aria of Vernal Tombs" is an incredible ride, both fresh and beautiful. One can only hope Obsequiae will continue to deliver amazing medieval metal.