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There was no summer, and it was still forgettable. - 51%

gojiramonamarth, July 1st, 2016
Written based on this version: 2016, CD, Season of Mist (Digipak)

Right around the time I first discovered Obsidian Kingdom, I became quickly aware that they would be releasing their sophomore album, A Year With No Summer, within the next month or two. After familiarizing myself with some of OK’s early work, like their 2010 EP 3:11, it was hard not to be excited for this new release. Songs like “Solitude” exhibited a well-executed combination of post-metal guitars, blast beats, and (post?) death growls. The debut album Mantiis, while remaining a complex amalgamation of a handful of genres, still proved an impressive first release, albeit one that should (and really must) be listened to from start to finish. In this light, AYWNS had everything--a striking album title, a cover that echoed some mixture of abstract art and neorealism, and OK’s strong history supporting it. The cover features a man in a suit, walking on some flat piece of land (a beach? A desert?), mind as empty as his suitcase. Negatively distorted color and not to mention a chopped up title covering the whole image a la Sunbather? How could I pass this up?

It’s unnecessary to critique every second of any album, but from the very beginning of AYWNS, something had to said. A minute’s worth of a basic symbol pattern, and eventually an even simpler bass line. And then, of all things that the listener could here as the first line of the album, we are told the one thing we know for sure: “this year there will be no summer.” After following this with some not-so-melodic “uh huhs” (setting the atmosphere?), I had to be honest with myself: “what the hell is this?”

A year without summer. Imagine that, just straight from spring to winter, skipping many people’s (perhaps not many metal fans’, though) favorite part of the year. No doubt its surrounding years would pale in comparison. And yet, for all of the hype (Season of Mist excels at this, with varying results) and expectation surrounding it, AWYNS lacks almost anything memorable. “Darkness” has flashes of brilliance heard in the middle and final passages with the waving guitars and consistent, quick drum pattern. Still, OK manages to botch it, somehow, with the lyrics. The repetitive line “one day the skies will dye white,” takes a song with potential and diminishes it to a vapid performance, all the while creating a confusing picture. Sun dyed white = darkness? I must be missing something. “The Kandinsky Group,” what I’ve heard many praise as the album’s best track, is really mediocre post-adolescent vitriol covering up a semi-decent guitar, bass, and drum performance. Even the interludes are equipped with edgy, meant-to-hit-you-deep spoken-word sections comparing people (that’s the guy on the cover!) to windows (“is your life a pane?”).

If you are ambitious and patient enough to listen all the way to the final track, “Away/Absent,” congratulations, you’ve earned your 12 minute reward, as it’s easily the best song (and no surprise, the first single released) on the album. The lyrics cover a character coming to a new town, a new job, to escape the monotony of years that do have summers. It’s refreshing, really. A slow beginning, a powerful middle followed by some smooth build up, finished with a heavy and fast-paced climax. Just like any other solid post-metal closing track. Except it’s not. Just when you think they finished on a high-note, they decide for some reason to throw in a live hidden track 2 minutes, repeating the phrase heard so often in “Darkness”: “one day the skies will dye white.” Why? What is it about years without summer that makes art so weird?

The problem with A Year With No Summer remains its overall goal. What were OK trying to accomplish with this? The post-apocalyptic cover, while enticing, combined with the unpredictable music patterns just makes for too much in an album. They pulled off something similar before in Mantiis, but it fails here. Far too often I found myself trying to connect the bold “no summer” tag with what I was hearing. It’s all objective, but good music normally allows the listener to enjoy it and relax, and not constantly question it.

Believe it or not, the edginess stretches to outside of the album’s music, too. The excessively overdone digipak version, which, in my strong optimistic belief that this would blow my mind, I made sure I added to my collection, would put those who criticize Deafheaven as ‘hipster’ to shame . A table of random five digit integers litters the inside left cover flap. The disc has literally half a design (green and white waves) on the bottom, while the top half is basic cd clear. Finally, what I consider to be my favorite portion of any physical album, the booklet, takes “unnecessary” to a new level. Every piece of text, excluding the front cover, is written backwards, while the inside pages have more random, negative color images. It’s cool for about 30 seconds before you realize that it would be nice to read this without a mirror. If a year with no summer is really just a massive inconvenience and not some once a millennium (or a couple of decades, according to track 1), life-changing phenomenon, then it’s not worth anyone’s time.

Is A Year With No Summer terrible? Not by any stretch. It’s listenable, you just probably won’t enjoy it. At the end of the day, OK kept consistent with their brand, sticking to the “let’s put a handful of genres in one album and hope it works out” act. The ultimate goal and outcome, however, remain as fuzzy as the album cover itself. Of course, the final say is always with you, the listener, but if you expect smooth post-metal paired with heavy stretches from past OK albums, prepare for disappointment.

The Risk of Reward - 59%

GuntherTheUndying, June 26th, 2016

I dabbled briefly into the realm of Obsidian Kingdom some years ago at the proposition that the Spanish group was the most creative entity since Cynic peeled an onion using only psionic ability. “A Year with No Summer” caught me by surprise—I remember Obsidian Kingdom as an extreme progressive/experimental faction, not a progressive rock squad. But alas, I have a sweet tooth for stuff like this; a musical adjustment closely related to the band’s identity as such shouldn’t give one just cause to mewl with extreme prejudice. It is a tricky situation here, as I feel “A Year with No Summer” ends up a mixed bag. The progressive rock structure limits the group creatively, and there are several instances in which the opportunities available to Obsidian Kingdom are squandered.

Progressive rock is a tricky girl to figure out, especially if the perceiver doesn’t have its priorities in order. This is the problem in the case of “A Year with No Summer,” as Obsidian Kingdom fails to capitalize on the open-endedness that should be available to them. This is a very subdued and mellow record; there are heavier moments, but the album mostly coasts on chilled tempos and a constant bass presence thumping underneath the passive guitar sequences. Despite having an instrumental system that applies keyboards and semi-experimental ideas, Obsidian Kingdom appears in a familiar skin on every track, showing holes in a songwriting equation that is pigeonholed into a mopey, reflexive space. It sounds like a record some sad dudes would write if there really were a year with no summer.

The songwriting, as I mentioned, is crippled by a lack of imagination. “Darkness,” for example, is extremely repetitive, repeating its hypnotic vocal lines over and over and over without any real justification to keep running up the clock. The saving grace of the album is “Away/Absent,” and finally Obsidian Kingdom begins to whip out the big guns. It is a much more intense track compared to the other numbers, and features a grander experimental scheme, including a section of blast beats over its spacey stomp and trippy keyboards. Progressive rock implementing death metal influence—that’s a stellar creative prospect. “Away/Absent” is the only instance of this strange, enticing union occurring, unfortunately, and it does not surprise me one iota that it is clearly the best track here.

Experiments like this are heavy on the concepts of risk and reward; the outcome, as anticipated, may not produce worthwhile results the more the scales are tipped. In the case of “A Year with No Summer,” the final product is harmless and feels a trifle vacant. The ultimate blow to the record isn’t its tame, submissive approach, but the missed opportunities to enrich the progressive identity through a reversed lens. Glimmers of Obsidian Kingdom reaching levels near their creative potential are present, just not fully conceptualized. Despite its shortcomings in the songwriting department and general quality, “A Year with No Summer” is still an endurable experience. Again, the album has its moments, yet the perils of risk trump reward.

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