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Obsequiae > The Palms of Sorrowed Kings > Reviews
Obsequiae - The Palms of Sorrowed Kings

Scaling the castle walls again - 71%

robotiq, March 9th, 2023

Obsequiae seems to have settled on a four-year album cycle. This is a good sign for a modern metal band. The genre is decades from its heyday and there are fewer boundaries to push. Bands can no longer rely on touring momentum and camaraderie to create consistent and meaningful music. It is better for bands to take their time, crafting their music in the spare hours around their work/life/family commitments. Obsequiae have always felt like a 'boutique' option in a world dominated by mass-produced metal junk. Their handicraft approach to melodic death/black metal culminated in a superb debut album ("Suspended in the Brume of Eos").

Eight years on and two albums later, the band’s linchpin and main songwriter Tanner Anderson is joined by a harpist and a new drummer. "The Palms of Sorrowed Kings", doesn't match the band's debut for fire and brimstone intensity, but it is much better than the second album ("Aria of Vernal Tombs"). Andersson seems to have remembered how to write interesting songs, and he integrates his melodies with the percussion much better than last time. This record also pushes the 'medieval' elements further, the harp-led instrumentals are longer and more impressive, and there is greater use of keyboard ambience behind the guitar melodies.

Obsequiae seem to have recaptured some of their swagger. The faster moments of songs like "Ceres in Emerald Streams" and “Asleep in the Bracken” sometimes sound like Sacramentum or Dissection. Even here, things always return to a more measured pace, which is where the band feels most comfortable. Most of the songs stay in the mid-pace range, but with lots of riff-changes and interweaving melodic puzzles. These songs are far more complex than those of the average melo-death or melodic black metal band, and the likes of "Morrígan" and “Lone Isle” are both fluid and angular, which is a rare combination.

The production is not ideal. It is nowhere near as irritating as the production on the previous album, but it still sounds too clean for my ears. The guitar tone is overbearing in its brightness and the drums can sound splashy (though avoiding the 'clickiness' that plagues modern metal drum sounds). The shininess of everything can result in an overbearing sonic mess with some unappealing clashes. The vocals suffer the most, being buried somewhere underneath all the guitar, curbing all of Anderson's formidible vocal power. This production sounds like an artistic choice, so I guess they knew what they were doing, but I don’t like it.

I doubt that Obsequiae will ever recapture the one-of-a-kind creative energy of their debut album. For now, "The Palms of Sorrowed Kings" is the next best thing, an impressive example of melody and complexity in extreme metal. The presence of ex-Krakatoa guitarist Carl Skildum guesting on one song is intriguing (he is also a live member). His melodic style could be a perfect counterpart to Anderson’s own style. I would be interested to see what happens if he joins as a full-time member, adding his own formidable creative spark. Something to think about for the next album, perhaps?

Soft fabric of ages past - 85%

gasmask_colostomy, May 24th, 2020

Since stepping into the spotlight in 2011 with an extremely distinctive debut album, Obsequiae’s style has solidified into a resolutely predictable package. Third full-length The Palms of Sorrowed Kings barely breathes on the formula, merely dusting off the hyper-melodic black metal and medieval harp interludes that provide the band’s peculiar atmosphere. For anyone thinking that actual black metal constitutes a part of Obsequiae’s appeal, think again: if these songs had been recorded in a time before electricity, one could imagine they would sound almost the same. To call the guitars distorted does a disservice to how soft and fragrant they feel, summed up all too well by songtitles like ‘In the Garden of Hyacinths’ and ‘Asleep in the Bracken’. Likewise, the harp interludes could have been recorded 800 years ago and most of us would be none the wiser.

Therefore, in the same way as Véhémence plant their music squarely in the medieval past, Obsequiae do not play black metal of the here and now, nor is any attempt made to lace the regal lushness with anger or evil, barring the dry rasp of Tanner Anderson’s infrequent vocals. Oddly, he mostly sings reveries of halcyon bliss, which suit the occasional clean vocals much better than his throaty harsh efforts. This factor remains the most puzzling element of The Palms of Sorrowed Kings, since such care is taken to cater to the atmosphere of each piece, with drums rarely scratching the surface of the melodies, while the juxtaposition of these primitive shouts so clearly contradicts the notions of majesty and tranquillity elsewhere. Perhaps the band will yet take one final step to shed what remains of their black metal orthodoxy.

Mild contradictions withstanding, the glorious lilt and dash of the album hits the mark admirably consistently for 50 minutes. Little can separate the styles of the 7 longer songs and 5 shorter interludes, although the choral vocals on the title track stand out boldly, while some of the glistening solos are simply phenomenal, in addition to most of the melodies being memorable, ‘Ceres in Emerald Streams’ harking back to early Amorphis through a similar tone to the Finns’ distinctive keyboards. What seems increasingly difficult to declare as Obsequiae take confident step after step is whether this compelling formula was perfectly realized at first, or has some way still to go.

Originally written for Metalegion #6 -

Beyond the Ancient Ruins - 90%

Petrus_Steele, March 8th, 2020
Written based on this version: 2019, CD, 20 Buck Spin (Digipak)

I think it became a phase that every four years the band would record and release a new album. I don’t recall when was the album’s official announcement, or the anticipated release date, but it’s finally here! The album has unique characteristics; like the distinctive guitar melodies, the expansion of the harp, more guest musicians, the tone and atmosphere, and a lot of engineers (including Tanner) working on the album. There’s also a new drummer and there have been three different drummers for each studio album.

Exactly like the debut album, there are seven songs and five instrumental tracks; two of them being the intro & outro. However, as pretty as they sound, that’s all they are. They’re more of background music and not as impressive as some from the previous record, not to mention how identical they all sound. I won’t lie, though. The outro differentiates a lot from the other four, considering the extra instruments mixed in the track. The melodies sure vary, but the tone remains the same. I believe it’s a testament that the band should consider investing in one or two long instrumentals to eliminate any sort of fillers. Of course, if you like them, then more power to you.

I’m not too sure if the new drummer enhanced the sound from what I heard in the previous record, but it hits hard! The bass also seems to be louder than ever. The opening song mostly showcased the new sound and production, while overall fun, the album would strap you in for more. With In the Garden of Hyacinths, you get more of the blasting drums and powerful guitar melodies. There’s also a short bass solo and the keyboards’ presence is strong. The title track offers heavier and chilling guitar melodies, as well as an explosive solo. Also, you get some excellent double bass and blast beats, and amazing clean vocals by the first guest vocalist Jake Rogers (Visigoth rings any bells?). Morrígan is arguably the best song. The composition is quintessential, thanks to the bass, the guitar, and the overall atmosphere. For me, Lone Isle blew Morrígan sky high. The guitar riffs are incomprehensibly powerful in their intense delivery. The shrieking were as intense, and interestingly enough, the former drummer is the second guest vocalist. His name is Andrew D’Cagna. The last two songs perfectly sum up the entire electrical compositions. Asleep in the Bracken is just heavy, while Emanations Before the Pythia showcases more melodies in a lighter atmosphere.

While there’s a small decline from Aria of Vernal Tombs because of the instrumentals and the different sound, this new masterpiece still holds on to its own; just like the last two records. They’re all good in their own ways. This record is as fresh as the last two, and that’s what I’m happy about Obsequiae and Tanner’s direction the most. But as I stated above, the band should focus on longer instrumentals instead of filling half the tracklist with fillers, or shoot if it’s no bargain, have more songs on the album. The best songs are In the Gardens of Hyacinths, the title track, Morrígan, and Lone Isle.

Crumbling selflessly - 100%

GrizzlyButts, January 26th, 2020
Written based on this version: 2019, Digital, 20 Buck Spin

As the very end of the thirteenth century crowned the fourteenth an ever-emerging malcontent between statesman and peon came to a head, a new state of unrest and boldness among men living under the kingdom of Galicia saw a grand (but failed) half-decade attempt at sovereignty light new fires within the common man. This failed revolt, a last stand beyond an enduring vie for power by John de Castile since the 1280’s, was yet one wave within the ever-wrinkling minds of the population… or, their squirming educated leadership. Though ~fifty years of weaseled, bartered, forced and fought for city-state independence would be nullified by the Black Death as the kingship’s rule would become ever treacherous for the people soonafter their hardest-felt socioeconomic collapse, those small successes (and frequent secession) would define the next hundred years of the kingdom’s wretched pre-Enlightenment rule. Civilization, as a concept, yet capably finds its plateau of self-worth in the hands of both tyrant and the supposed benevolent usurper but, no such paradise persists today beyond vague windows into time immemorial — The castle, as a powerful image of home and heritage, and the sense of the fantastic and ethereal wonder it brings to imaginative men is a malignance; An idealist lie worshiped by men easily molded by gears of generationally ingrained religious corruption into vessels of soupy wonder as if their ancestors would look to these crumbling ruins of power built with death’s mortar as anything more than a symptom of a greater plague itself. False utopias auld, all of them! When has a sense of belonging been enough to sustain starving and sick men? They exist only in the hearts of the prosperous, eh… — Where was I? *checks notes* Ah, Obsequiae is a font of ancient melodious performative structure torn from luxuriously medieval history by intrepid muso and re-purposed as music to enrich and embolden the hearts of todays abundant peon majority. The Minneapolis, Minnesota born project persists heartily, spirited from sun or core of Earth on this third album, ‘The Palms of Sorrowed Kings’, as a lucid and rapturous event met with shaking enthusiasm by those who would fill the old dour halls of dead (and soon-ousted) kings and celebrate by dancing neatly on their crumbled, burning tombs.

It’d be fair to wager you’re not interested in a random Spanish history blurb or whatever half-baked Faustian prose I could manage and your brain hungers only for guitar-heroic interpretations of 13th century melodies. Of course you can trust that Obsequiae iterate in this sense, bringing back the glossy fidelity of their well-received sophomore album (‘Aria of Vernal Tombs, 2015) with a notable boost in overall resonance and depth. I was what, fifteen seconds into “Ceres in Emerald Streams” before it hugged me, nearly suffocating me, I was sold immediately, the rest of my thoughts are just more blather: Born from a hiatus in the mid-2000’s that’d find melodic black metal band Autumnal Winds transformed into musician Tanner Anderson‘s (Celestiial, Hiraeth Eschar) major directive within the world of heavy music, Obsequiae‘s own history can be considered adjacent to the age of rising outsiders and compatriots amongst United States black metal’s folk metal underground where a second generation grew beyond Agalloch‘s intrepid sound and earthen spirit (see: Woods of Ypres, Nechochwen, Falls of Rauros, Panopticon, etc.). Anderson‘s own unique vision developed under a notably different umbrella, though, reaching a similar precipice of atmospheric black metal values while featuring guitar leads that were phrasal in the same way Windir and Rotting Christ were in the late 90’s. This is most plainly appreciable narcotic value of Obsequiae, the cyclically resonant melodious ‘epic’ dance of their blackened rhythms set beneath soaring, affirming and mournful leads remains intensely personal and redeeming. This remains true even when no great risks or changes are employed on ‘The Palms of Sorrowed Kings’, an album that is a success of capture, presence and refinement rather than a complete revision.

My first instinct was that ‘The Palms of Sorrowed Kings’ intended a slight return to some of the more riffing, groove-driven voicing of Obsequiae‘s first album (‘Suspended in the Brume of Eos‘, 2011) instead of their medieval harp soused second record. “Lone Isle” “Morrígan” and the second single “In the Garden of Hyacinths” had initially appeared to confirm this in preview but after a full listen I’d say a balance of both albums leanings come together naturally on this third full-length. Beyond those initial rumblings the return of Spanish harpist Vicente La Camera Mariño on four solo pieces threaded throughout this record does indicate a continuation of ‘Aria of Vernal Tombs’ more than anything else. An additionally fine set of hands, mouths and ears have touched this work between members of Antiverse, Visigoth, and Nechochwen with the title tracks feature of Jake Rogers (Caladan Brood, Visigoth) standing out as a particularly powerful flourish. All of these capable hands conjoined in realizing a higher potential greatly enhance the unique and spirited melodic ascent of Obsequiae in 2019 but where is the clutch album-defining “Svartesmeden og Lundamyrstrollet” moment? Eh, pick one? Really any of the seven electric guitar driven tracks within fully represent Obsequiae riding higher than ever as one of, if not -the-, finest melodic black metal act to have released original records this decade.

My own nagging critical voice had to suffocate under the emotional resonance of ‘The Palms of Sorrowed Kings’ before it would entirely breathe its gold-and-blonde flecked luster into me and it took nearly a month of spinning from head, to heart and stomach before I’d wanted to write about it. Very little could be compared with Obsequiae, particularly whilst maintaining the tunnel vision of extreme metal relevance. I don’t mean that unique brass stems solely from sound and style but from effective, evocative composition that itself communicates a sense of personality. The medieval harp pieces provide a gorgeous and professional setting to bloom from, each representing small meditations with their own underpinned spiritual path, and it makes for a remarkably effective combination with buzzing, castle-storming autumnal melodic black metal battle hymns. With arms crossed, I’d agree with anyone who’d say ‘The Palms of Sorrowed Kings’ is all but tonally similar to the previous album but this is an exit from the cave of prior perceptions, a step into the light for the project. My only personal expectation was for that core melodrama, the ethereal and emotional resonance provided by harmonious polyphonic feats that lift, and lilt, and volley the experience to gripping heights too far transcendent of extreme metal’s aped and borrowed evolution otherwise… was sustained. It is sustained and wondrous as an unusually meditative experience — A major highlight and point of inspiration for music in 2019.


The ACDC of medieval black metal - 80%

caspian, January 7th, 2020

Brume of Eos (what is a brume, what is Eos?) came on after this album finished and I didn't notice for about three songs. I think that says a lot about this album, and is either high praise or a criticism depending on where you stand.

Myself, I'd say it's praise, mostly. Those floaty, super melodic, sacramentum on happy pills riffs are as good as ever. The reverb is pure distilled sex. More immersive than a mass baptism. I certainly enjoyed idly dreaming my way through the housework this morning with this coming out of my cheap as hell bluetooth speaker (still sounded like a $million was spent on the thing), the kitchen suddenly getting overgrown with ancient vines and moss and shit. There's that bit of pure ear candy where the clean vocals burst out of the verdant greenery that's the title track which is pure musical triumph; not sure why this move wasn't considered earlier.

Anyway, unlike Vernal Tombs this time round I'm finding things to critique. It's a bit like a Sigur Ros album in that you almost wonder if it's too melodic. Yes the guitar playing is ridiculous, endless sweet melodies and sublime scale runs and all. Yes there's some huge moments. But what is it saying? Is it just pretty for the sake of pretty? It's analogous to a really beautifully painted landscape. The clouds are great, the trees look beautful, one might even say they're happy little trees, the lake looks inviting. But is it an ********interesting*** landscape? Or are you just looking at the visual representation of sugar? Is The Palms of Sorrowed Kings the audial version of a Macca's chocolate thickshake?

I would say, well, yeah, it is. The hoarse yelled vocals aside, it's pure sweet as it gets junk food. It's great, it's fun, i'm not entirely convinced it is DEEP ART. That's not a huge blow or anything but I don't really think I'm gonna say it's classic. Real fun album that's worth your time if you see it around

Did this Have Any Chance of Not Being Good? - 92%

Thumbman, December 8th, 2019

The Palms of Sorrowed Kings was easily my most anticipated metal album of 2019. Not only was its predecessor Aria of Vernal Tombs a highlight of 2015, it was a highlight of the decade. It pushed the melodic black metal of Suspended in the Brume of Eos into something that defies comparison to any other band. It was still ostensibly black metal, but it also didn't really feel like black metal. The soaring harmonized guitar leads, catchy song structures, medieval harp interludes - it was a winning formula. The album established a unique atmosphere, dazzled with its overt melodicism, and ultimately entered a league of its own. If you don't think "Orphic Rites of the Mystics" isn't one of the best song the best metal songs of the decade, I really don't know what to tell you. So how does Sorrowed Kings stack up? It doesn't reach the impossibly high bar set by Vernal Tombs, but still proves to be one of my standout metal albums of the year.

It almost feels weird that I like this as much as I do, seeing as Aria of Vernal Tombs 2 would have been a very apt name for the album. They had a rock solid formula on Vernal Tombs, and they decide to continue riding that wave. There are a few small steps they take to not make it a total repeat, but in a lot of ways it might as well be the same album. Although continuing to make the same album over and over will surely lead to diminishing returns, I've listened to this pretty much every other day since it has come out, and one more go at a classic sound doesn't bother me in the least. Vicente La Camera Mariño's medieval harp interludes are even more frequent than the previous album, and they're great. The dude is a professional harp player, and very good at his craft. These beautiful, bittersweet pieces do a lot to establish the medieval (but never cheesy/goofball) atmosphere and give the album room to breathe. However, in the future I'm worried that they will become too expected. I'd love to see him take the move towards integrating the harp into the metal songs.

While the tumbling duel guitar melodies that kick off the title track are extremely memorable (and the rest of the song isn't far behind), I think a big part of the reason I don't like Sorrowed Kings as much as Vernal Tombs is that it doesn't have a knock out blow that can rival "Autumnal Pyre"or especially "Orphic Rites of the Mystics." However, there are standout moments and sections that at least somewhat distinguish it from the previous albums. The little melodic bass break in "In the Garden of Hyacinths" is one of the best micro-moments I've heard in metal in eons. Speaking of the bass, the way it works in more melodic lines to counter the guitars is one of the highlights of the album, and one thing they did do better than in Vernal Tombs. The subtle-but-effective clean vocals in "The Palms of Sorrowed Kings" were a really nice touch. They bring in some female guest voices in some points, but these are a bit too understated to make a big impact. It would have been really cool if they did something with a female guest vocalist like Agalloch did in "As Embers Dress the Sky." The lead guitars, of course, are the biggest draw. The soaring melodies are absolutely phenomenal, and it's endlessly impressive that virtually all the leads on the album are harmonized. Tanner makes it look so easy.

I think a big reason I liked Aria of the Vernal Tombs more is just how fresh it felt. Sure, Suspended in the Brume of Eos laid the groundwork, but Vernal Tombs is truly when Obsequiae came into their own. I'm not sure you can make a bad album with the formula Obsequiae has, but The Palms of Sorrowed Kings was only perhaps just a tad disappointing because it largely played out the same journey as its predecessor rather than expanding on it. However, by a tad disappointing I basically mean it's just not the album of the year I was hoping for, and I'm not going to spend the whole review complaining about an album that's by all means incredible. Obsequiae are truly one of the best in the game right now, and no one really sounds like them (I'd like to see anyone but Tanner nail those incredible dueling guitar melodies). The Palms of Sorrowed Kings is an easy standout of 2019.

A formula that works and continues to work - 90%

Derigin, December 7th, 2019
Written based on this version: 2019, Digital, 20 Buck Spin

The third full-length album of 'medieval' melodic black metal masterminds Obsequiae, The Palms of Sorrowed Kings proves itself a strong successor to the first two albums by continuing the formula that we've come to love from the band. Raspy harsh vocals, set low and unobtrusive, with soaring guitars and thick bass and drums are framed by instrumental tracks that set a nostalgic mood with romantic, classical acoustic strings and harp. Somehow this formula works, and Obsequiae has nailed it down well for this release. Much like the band's other work, you can lose yourself in this album's intoxicating melodies and its smooth leads.

It's one of the weirder things that this formula works so well, and continues to work so well in this album. As a whole the album's themes make you intuitively want to think this band should be playing the stereotypical 'medieval' music - the flutes, the harpsichord, the tin whistle - but that's not the case here. With Obsequiae, the formula is a simple matter of album structure; instrumental tracks built on the wonderful work of the talented Vicente La Camera Mariño and his use of the medieval harp act as natural breaks between more standard, melodic black metal tracks. You won't find the hyper use of folk instruments or the occasional awkward folk sampling; that's just not the type of music this is.

Instead, in spite of its medieval themes, Obsequiae have consistently relied on the use of stringed instruments that make its instrumental tracks seem more ancient than medieval. And, it's in the instrumental tracks wherein that element is isolated and on show. Set among sounds of nature, the stringed instruments - particularly the harp - are elegant, graceful, and frankly beautiful. They're also undeniably meditative with melodies that transition into subsequent tracks with the same level of grace in which they are played.

Likewise, the melodic black metal tracks raise the bar with each and every subsequent song. Guitars rise above the rest and appear to drive the music with soaring chord progression. The bass and drums create and hold that triumphant rhythm while giving the vocals a thick atmosphere for them to complement, not take away from the rest. Compared to the instrumental interludes throughout the album, these melodic black metal tracks have a similar elegance while still being uplifting, fast-paced and energetic. They're undeniably fun, but not in the hokey, cheesy sense. This is serious music, but music that also doesn't shy away from wanting people to find it enjoyable first and foremost.

Although, for the most part, The Palms of Sorrowed Kings sticks to that tried and tested formula, there are some areas or moments in which the band have opted to experiment and try new or different things. This is most evident towards the end of the album, with "Lone Isle" and "Emanations Before the Pythia." Both tracks feature guest artists, notably women, providing either narration, screams, or clean vocals, which have the effect of emphasizing the storylines of those particular tracks. Although I appreciate this move, I somehow feel those guest artists could've been better utilized; their addition almost feels like an afterthought. That's my only complaint though with that. Doing things like this makes for good progress, and I hope they continue doing so in the future.

On the whole, and overall, the album is a great continuation of the band's take on melodic black metal, and without a doubt is one of the better albums of this year simply, if not only, because that same formula that led to the band's success is still on display here in all its glory. My own feeling of disappointment is that, and I can't really explain it, the album just doesn't feel as novel and exceptional as the previous two felt for me. I always worry a little about bands that focus too exclusively on the same formula, in that they can often end up - for the lack of a better term, albeit a movie-related one - 'Marvelizing' themselves; in essence, creating good, satisfying products, but not necessarily great works. I don't think Obsequiae has gone that way with The Palms of Sorrowed Kings, and this album deserves praise, but it's a lingering thought in the back of my mind. It's a bit of a mystery.

Also published on Review Lads.

Master Medieval, Melodic Black Metal - 97%

AgentMadhatt, December 5th, 2019

Obsequiae is a band that I first heard in 2015, and immediately fell in love with. This bands style can best be described as melodic black metal with a ton of influence from medieval/Renaissance era music. This band is obviously well versed in music theory and they are highly skilled players. They are also incredibly skilled songwriters, which I feel is where many bands of this style fail. Whereas a lot of bands are truly talented players they fall short at being able to craft a meaningful and engaging song structure. Not so with Obsequiae: the music always remains engaging and interesting even if they do rely on pretty much the same formula for the entirety of the album. In essence I would consider this as easily the best black metal album of the year, and especially if you are fan of melodic black metal you absolutely MUST check this one out.

The formula of the album basically breaks down like this: There are 12 tracks here 7 are straight up melodic black metal and 5 are instrumental, and the instrumentals are evenly interspersed between the other tracks. For the straight black metal songs they use a very standard albeit expertly crafted melodic black metal formula. The instrumentals are these gorgeous Renaissance styled pieces of music, using only classical instruments such as the harp, hurdy gurdy and dulcimer( Yes I had to look at the credits to figure this out.) It's actually a perfect formula since in the straight black metal tracks they rely on pretty much the same type of song-structure throughout. The instrumentals are an integral part of this album and I find them to be absolutely gorgeous melodious masterpieces. I feel like without these instrumentals the album would be far less engaging and interesting. Which is not to say the rest of the album isn't great, it absolutely is.

Every single instrument on the "main" tracks is well represented in the mix. The guitars weave these awesome melodic lines that are in general very upbeat, even as the bass thumps out the rhythm every now and then going into lead-like runs. The drums are really the backbone of the whole affair and create the perfect foundation for the rest of the instruments to build on. The drummer is never content to rely on standard black metal tropes such as blast-beating and murdering the cymbals repeatedly. Instead he crafts an interesting rhythm and sprinkles in some very complex fills and breaks. They keyboard is used pretty sparingly, opting to be more of a background instrument instead a driving force in the lead melody. Every track is a highlight here and while I've stated that they generally use the same formula throughout they do it so well that it never really sounds monotonous or boring. They've clearly found a method that works for them and they don't really deviate from it. So instead of needlessly rambling on I'll just leave it at this: this here is one tremendous, engaging and gorgeous piece of melodic black metal performed by folks that really know how to craft an album. It is an essential listen for any fan of the style and metal fans generally.