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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 MariƱo 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.