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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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