CYNABARE URNE – Obsidian Daggers and Cinnabar Skulls (2020)REVIEW

Gem-like birefringence of al-zā’būq and its unassuming poisonous delirium-inducing alchemical properties — Each cut of the vessel a shard of fresh surface area to ooze with mercurial affect, flaked and dusted away for the sake of sharpest, clearest ritual forms. Chipping and grinding away at one great work with giggling, fuming breakthrough after breakthrough ’til madness turns to sickness; The finality of this one shining piece, be it skull-formed or crystalline amphora, arrives as the carver and craftsman collapses under distorted thought, achieving the other side of the rift unintentionally via their choice of vermillion stone. Alchemists, ritualists and Finnish dark experimental doom maestros make up this trio Cynabare Urne, an ominous sect of surprisingly devotional death metal folklorists who achieve their first major work via ‘Obsidian Daggers and Cinnabar Skulls‘. The source of their power is in tradition refracted from a set of obscure angles, that is to say that you won’t find cheap worship within but, rather an entirely atypical presentation for well-worthy decadeless death metal actions therein.

Conceived circa 2014 as decades active gothic and extreme doom metal musician Jani Koskela (Horizon of the Mute) began to experiment beyond his then winding-down 0 X í S T project, Cynabare Urn represent a unique perspective on elements of classic death metal, death/doom metal, and generally mid-paced alchemical unorthodoxy of the last two decades. Although the band was set as a duo unit early in their first year, then and still including Sameli Köykkä (Counting Hours, ex-Colosseum), Koskela would act as main songwriter for their first EP (‘Fire the Torches‘, 2016), a simpler and mid-paced band for ‘modern’ Finnish death metal standards but a fairly unique operation in every aspect. It wasn’t until they’d released a second EP (‘In the Cremation Ground‘, 2018) that the sort of creeping Necros Christos and nearby occult German death metal adjacent influences began to really shine. In order to wield a most potent, often blackened, death metal sound the band would then include drummer Ville Salonen (Apocryphal Voice, ex-Black Crucifixion) into their ranks, elevating the rhythmic dance that Cynabre Urne had been hinting at on earlier releases; Salonen would finally land with a thump upon this debut album, serving some of the most interesting and subtle change-ups on the album’s respectable ~42 minute length. Because Koskela has this oddly unorthodox (or, hyper-orthodox?) mindset in creation of death metal riffs we can touch upon some of my favorite off-kilter, mid-paced, and yet to be fully appreciated death metal along the way. Or, alternately, skip my thoughts and point to later Necros Christos with a bit of circa ’99 Aeternus and have a great day, thanks.

But that’d be too reductive and ‘Obsidian Daggers and Cinnabar Skulls’ has too much surrealistic clobber of its own to flatly set into one certain category. The one caveat I will toss up front is that blackened death metal at a mid-to-slower pace will inevitably serve some challenge for those seeking instant, uproarious death metal gratification; This album is a slow burn that heats to a fury before it ends. Finland isn’t necessarily the most appropriate place to start peeking around ancestral coffins but consider the virtues of Funebre‘s ‘Children of the Scorn’, mid-paced classic Finnish death metal with eerie chord changes and watery lead runs a la the earliest Swedeath if it were played at the wrong (slower) speed. Cynabare Urne don’t necessarily lean into the brutality of this era but the ease and deadpan simplicity of their movements does echo those classic forms just as the long-forgotten Swedish death metal act Kaamos did on their self-titled debut in the early 2000’s. The sensation of looking back without imitation or deeper sonic nostalgia is equaled if not surpassed yet this trio are deeper in tune with black/death and death/doom metal styles the world over and not necessarily the most extreme stuff. Drowned (Germany) and Sempiternal Dusk are fine analogues in this sense, certainly ‘old school’ minds achieving uniquely effective doomed death metal states. Without a doubt my mind explodes in its casing wanting to liken ‘Obsidian Daggers and Cinnabar Skulls’ to one of my absolute favorite hidden gems in this style Alchemyst‘s ‘Nekromanteion‘ but that’d be one step too self-indulgent, Cynabare Urn are much more straight forward and rarely bend towards black metal esotericism as much. “Baal-Berit” and “Last of the Icons Alive” do bear some slight resemblance, though.

In fact “Last of the Icons Alive” might end up being the most exciting song on the full listen, as it jumps from the speakers with its speed metal riffing ah via ‘Blood Fire Death’ amidst the hum of its ringing dissonant chords and gloomy gothic death/doom break approaching the 2:00 minute mark. Upon first impression this surrealistic bend late in the albums running order feels like a last gasp of something all-encompassing, a deeper thought saved for a strong finish and this placement feels even more intelligent (or, intentional) in its placement after countless additional listens. Cynabare Urne don’t break out of the gates with bombast on “Erida Evoken” so much as they barrel out, roll right into the muck and buzzing ruin of the song’s sweet spot and as they press on with similar attacks but strong compositional variation most of Side A feels, “deadpan” as I’d put it, full of conviction but biting its jaw shut so as to appear more severe. These introductory pieces aren’t as atmospherically viable as they appear, and I only mean that the riffing is intense and actually ‘playful’ when attempted in physical form. Before we’ve hit the first grand apex of the album (arguably “Escaping Xibalba”) it is clear these fellowes are proficient in many styles, interested in many things and truly exceed in presenting the rhythm guitar as the central voice within a death metal context.

What is the cause of this teeth-clenching feeling I’ve gotten, then? Honestly, I believe they are resisting the urge to rip into some truly unholy death/doom for the sake of delivering upon this specific thread or, core sub-genre conceit. Where does it pay off? Surrealistic tension applied to traditional death metal with (slight) early second wave black metal sensibilities. “Besmirch Curse” is an excellent example of this with its nigh d-beat hits and faster riffing giving way to melty grooves and a sort of Aeternus-esque folkish stomp (see: ‘Shadows of Old’), which becomes a very important reference in terms of recommendation from my point of view. Of course, it isn’t that long of a trek from Paimio to Bergen but it will feel like a stretch before this fine album unfolds into its central momentum. In this sense Side B and the general second half of Cynabare Urne is its most charming and active moment and, for my taste, the major selling point of the record. Though it might take some patience to see the forest for the trees, the trees are quite striking in this case. A high recommendation.

High recommendation. (85/100)

Rating: 8.5 out of 10.
TITLE:Obsidian Daggers and Cinnabar Skulls
LABEL(S):Helter Skelter,
Regain Records
RELEASE DATE:October 30th, 2020
BUY & LISTEN:Bandcamp [All Formats]
GENRE(S):Death Metal,
Blackened Death Metal

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