Obsequiae
Aria of Vernal Tombs

It has been more than a thousand years since the minstrels, troubadours, and minnesingers of the Middle Ages strummed their lutes and cooed their poetry to eager and usually royal ears. Obsequiae, if they could travel back to those days, would have lulled the lords and ladies of court into wondrous reverie with a gentle opener like “Ay Que Por Muy Gran Fremosura,” but then, the shrieks and croaks of “Autumnal Winds” would have been joined by cries of devilry and blasphemy. Or just a lot of fainting.

If you’re not familiar with the band, they play a unique and beautiful blend of classical/medieval music and melodic black metal. 2011’s excellent Suspended in the Brume of Eos made my year-end list back then and received a lot of praise from other founts of good taste and wisdom as well. Aria of Vernal Tombs is only their second full-length. I am guessing Neidhart von Reuenthal and Blondel de Nesle (now identified as Tanner Anderson and Andrew Della Cagna, and joined here by Vincente la Camera Mariño on medieval harp) have been otherwise occupied during the last four years. Or maybe it just takes a damn long time to shape, craft, and hone an Obsequiae release.

Most noticeable change is that some songs are more muscular and speedier, but harsh vocals aside, this is still not exceptionally aggressive music. The raspy howling does create an odd bit of anachronistic sacrilege though. Medieval music was both sacred and secular; the songs devoted to subjects from love to war to deeds of heroism, chivalry and sometimes debauchery. The intent was likely never to brood or frighten. Perhaps listeners of that age would have heard them as the calls and caws of Death himself, if not for the loveliness of the music. I don’t know if these songs would work with traditionally melodic/clean singing anyway; the droning, monochromatic vocals are probably best suited as a counterpoint to the busy-ness of the music.

Some tracks – “Autumnal Winds,” “Anlace and Heart” are mid-paced and stately, like a slow processional across open fields, while others like “Pools of a Vernal Paradise” are more lively and spirited blastbeat-driven gallops. The guitar and bass work together as a single unit, layered and intertwining and restless, even as they are guided overall by repetitive motifs. They generally buzz and drone, but when they crest into glorious melodic passages, they glint and shine like power metal solos.

I do love how this isn’t just a medievally-inspired version of mid 90s folk-driven black metal – there’s a lot of classic heavy metal bravado and heroism in songs like “Orphic Rites of Passage” and “In Absence of Light” as well. They’re never quite as bombastic due to the slightly muted tone of the guitars and measured pace, but it’s still thrilling. The harp-strummed interstitial tracks that punctuate the album like “L’Amour Don’t Sui Espris,” “The Anchoress’ Orison,” and “Des Oge Mais Quer Eu Trobar” are also enchanting – in fact, it would be fascinating to hear a harp & lute-only version of the entire album.

Aria of Vernal Tombs is rather relaxing for black metal – and it achieves this without a trace of shoegaze warble or ambient drone. I just wish I were more of a musical scholar and could begin to dissect and put names to Obsequaie’s classical techniques. Perhaps the band will do a commentary version – how many metal bands can claim to educate as well as excite, enchant, and entertain?

[Visit the band's website]
Written by Jordan Itkowitz
June 15th, 2015

Comments

  1. Commented by: E. Thomas

    Such a gorgeous record.


  2. Commented by: Luke_22

    Nice review Jordan. This album blew me away. One of the year’s best for sure.


  3. Commented by: Adam

    Excellent writeup. This is neck and neck with Macabre Omen for my favorite black metal album of the year so far.


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