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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.