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Who Knew Harp Could Be So Badass? - 97%

dystopia4, 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.