Oubliette – The Passage (2018) REVIEW

Murfreesboro, Tennessee is a city undoubtedly haunted by the ghosts of it’s past as the site of one of the most incredibly brutal Civil War engagements. Yet a hundred and fifty years later all 24,000 dead are surely long resting and the minor city is barely a blip on the Union’s radar outside of the occasional embarrassing racism. What has made the city notable for me since 2014 was the discovery of black metal project Oubliette with their out-of-nowhere debut ‘Apparitions’. As I am a melodic black metal enthusiast their merger of modern atmospheric black metal guitar techniques with some traditional elements of melodic black/death metal is captivating. If that is hard to envision consider the saccharine Finnish style of meloblack a la Black Swan with a heavy dose of Alcest influenced guitar work. ‘Apparitions’ seemed an effortlessly dour sort of record whereas four years later ‘The Passage’ appears hard fought and tragically themed.

Oubliette was formed in 2011 as a collaboration between guitarist Mike Low and his wife Emily Low along with Jake Jones (Æther Realm) and with some great love for the classics of melodic black metal. Up until that point Mike Low was largely known for record engineering work on albums by Enfold Darkness and A Loathing Requiem and 2011 would see an uptick in notability as he joined as guitarist for technical death metal band Inferi. What I can gather of his approach to composition within Oubliette is that his aim is set at the high watermark of ‘Storm of the Light’s Bane’ yet often dips into the atmospheric post-black wilds of groups like Wayfarer or Uada. It is precise music with easily followed melodic ideas that leads with it’s atmospherics in hopes of emotional resonance.

Of course if the intention was to take influence from the old gods of melodic Swedish metal and pulse atmospherics atop it the result is essentially a blackened, less progressive version of what groups like Insomnium have down to an exact science. Oubliette succeed in all of the areas that made ‘Apparitions’ special on ‘The Passage’ but only manage to polish and mildly tweak that initial vision. This time around I would say the pre-‘Colony’ In Flames guitar work tames some of Oubliette‘s fire along with less reverb-chilled vocals. I can ‘read’ the emotive face of ‘The Passage’ better than previous but it has lost the dark mystère of their debut. The trade off isn’t unpleasant but I found myself wanting more of an edge and less floundering dejection.

Though you could suggest I’ve missed the point, and the nuance, of ‘The Passage’ and it’s lyrics which use prose to evoke feelings of grief before piling further tragedy atop it’s already considerable emotional burden. It is a downward spiral that begins in the throes of personal conflict and ends in the worst of personal places. So, in that sense the music is well conceived to accompany the story being told. This is a relatively common trajectory for depressive black metal albums, especially those themed with a descent towards suicide, and while ‘The Passage’ isn’t that it should appeal to ‘fans of’. I felt a bit drowned by it’s themes at first but enjoyed successive listens that elucidated it’s larger concept.

So, there you have it a cinematically adept atmospheric/melodic black metal record from technical death metal musicians that conveys feeling with some reasonable success. ‘The Passage’ is a tough thing to analyze because while it resonates and improves slightly on Oubliette‘s previous work its soft and tragic affect smooths over the rough edges I enjoy in most melodic black metal. I would recommend this more to fans of modern atmospheric black metal than I would to old school meloblack folks but, there are elements throughout that would appeal to both. “The Curse” and “Elegy” should provide more than enough of a preview when gauging interest but I’d also throw in the album’s closer, the title track, to get a most complete idea of what you’re in for.

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Artist Oubliette
Type Album
Released July 13, 2018
BUY/LISTEN on The Artisan Era’s Bandcamp! Follow Oubliette on Facebook
Genres
Melodic Black Metal

 In a pale garment. 3.5/5.0

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