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.
Very high recommendation. 5.0/5.0
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