Oubliette
Apparitions

An oubliette, from the French word ‘oublier’ – to forget – is a dungeon. A particularly horrible and lonely sort of dungeon, little more than a hole in the ground. In you go, curled and cramped, and then a lid or stone is slid across the opening, trapping you in blackness while your body succumbs to pain, hunger, thirst and madness over time – and that’s if the rats and crawling, squirming things don’t get to you first.

I poked my head down into an oubliette once while touring Warwick Castle in the UK, and it was an awful little jolt to my imagination. I took a deep breath and wondered how many souls had perished and rotted away in that little dark space, ending their lives in the same state in which they started – fetal and alone.

The mind-warping oblivion of Ruins of Beverast, Portal or Deathspell Omega would probably better capture the misery of actually rotting away in an oubliette, but USBM act Oubliette is a little livelier than that. The sound is somewhere between melancholy acoustic-driven darkness (think Fen, Agalloch, or October Falls) and melodic death/doom like Rapture and Insomnium. In other words: gorgeous, flowing, melodic black metal that is more likely to make you swoon with sadness than succumb to insanity.

Hailing from Tennessee, the band features a member of Aether Realm (their excellent Viking melodeath release, One Chosen by the Gods, hit my year-end list last year) and one from Inferi (who released a strong tech/melodeath album this year), with both male and female vocalists. Both of those bands are intensely melodic but quite different – one rousing and triumphant, the other chaotic and contorted – while Apparitions occupies a softer, more thoughtful sphere.

That’s not to say that this is a mellow journey like something from Les Discrets, though I certainly hear a lot of their nostalgic, heartbreaking chill through Apparitions. Opening track “Whispers” shudders beneath the weight of thunderous blastbeats, with forceful vocals riding high in the mix and chiming ambience and tremolo layered deep below – buried like in a you-know-what. Keyboards are graceful rather than Grand Guignol-garish (unlike so many other 90s acts), and the overall effect is dramatic without ever becoming cheesy or overbearing. Very enjoyable. The track settles into loping, mid-paced death/doom later on, and carries forward into “The Fog,” which, with its gauzy atmosphere, rolling acoustics and rousing melodies, recalls a black metal version of Insomnium.

“Withering Dreams” is one of the standouts here, most notably because of the seamless way it changes from a stately Alcest-like ballad to a more aggressive melodeath/doom anthem. Guest vocalist Egan O’Rourke from Daylight Dies does a wonderful job in a duet here with female vocalist Emily Low – seriously, when was the last time you heard vocal harmonies in any form of black metal – and both guitarists have plenty of opportunity to show off with tremolo melodies that coil, twist and soar through the song’s serpentine second half. Breathtaking stuff. Another high point comes late in “Howls of Death,” with more Damnation-era Opeth cues briefly shining through the gloom before the song blackens again and races towards a frosty finish.

Emily Low’s lilting soprano also weaves through “A Beautiful Suicide,” complementing the flowing tremolo melodies and bringing ethereal grace to an already lovely and somber lament. She also haunts the opening and bridges of “Creatures of the Endless Slumber,” one of the speediest tracks on the album, and one which recalls the relentless attack of classic Light’s Bane-era Dissection. Low deserves the accolades currently being piled on Myrkur, plus the metal segments here are far more accomplished and nuanced. Apparitions closes with the lengthy and ambitious “Palingenesis,” which shifts assuredly between the band’s two sounds – clattery aggression and mournful elegance – before peaking halfway through with an Enslaved-like series of stuttering riffs, and then completes the odyssey with satisfying heft and scope.

I had originally gone searching for another Oubliette when I came across this one. That one hailed from the UK, but appropriately enough, seems to have been forgotten. This Oubliette, on the other hand, deserves a lot more recognition and attention. Fans of the acts I mentioned above or anyone who prizes both melancholy and malevolence in their black metal will likely enjoy this as much as I did. Excellent find, and sure to make my year-end list in a few months.

[Visit the band's website]
Written by Jordan Itkowitz
November 25th, 2014

Comments

  1. Commented by: Stiffy

    This is awesome.


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