Black metal has an identity problem, and it’s exhausting. The community froths at the mouth to validate, accuse, hoist aloft or otherwise dismantle what it means to be black metal in the current age. But then I look at the rolling fields and crumbling ruins in broad daylight that note the arrival of a new Obsequiae record and I breathe a sigh of relief. Here is a band unconcerned with status, with genre, with any kind of presence (seriously, beyond a Metal Archives listing I couldn’t find anything) in the community other than to carry high the singular sound they’ve been refining for three albums now. And now the consumer of music can turn from the maelstrom and rejoice, for The Palms of Sorrowed Kings stands as the clearest, finest example of the kind of thing Obsequiae and no one else is doing in metal right now.
Finding your musical footing in the tapestries of medieval folk and black metal may not seem like a natural foundation, but since 2011 that’s what Tanner Anderson and his collaborators have been doing. Suspended in the Brume of Eos made it immediately clear where the focus is, and that is on the majesty of the guitar lead. Brutality and aggression take a backseat as guitar melodies intertwine and play off of each other, all to the backdrop of a production that, while thin, serves to illuminate the crossing of melodic lines. Epic songs are alternated with beautiful acoustic interludes which have the weight of reality in their structures rather than anything that might spring out of a Brothers Hildebrandt painting and without the goof or awkward references to fantasy series.
With each release offering a further refinement on this sound, The Palms of Sorrowed Kings doesn’t feel like a massive leap from its already great predecessor, Aria of Vernal Tombs. But it’s in those small refinements where the new album really takes flight. The first noticeable improvement is in the production, which offers a crystal clear soundstage for the guitars to revel in. The sound still occupies a relatively narrow band of frequencies: anyone looking for booming bass is going to walk away disappointed. But the production is what it is to highlight the incredible interplay going on between the guitars, whether it’s harmonized leads or bursts of tremolo melodies.
It also highlights the actual songwriting, which again takes the exemplary work of Vernal Tombs and makes subtle tweaks, mainly in subduing the aggression even more in favor of anthemic and regal riffs and lines. “Ceres in Emerald Streams” almost overwhelms with the sustain of the guitars. Tanner’s acoustic harp interludes are the strongest of any Obsequiae album, especially “Palastinalied” which takes advantage of the increased space of the run time to pick apart a captivating melody before marching to the regal metal of the title track. The fact that Tanner and the rest of the band can also capture their muse in compact song lengths is a huge plus, bringing more punch and immediacy to the run of “Morrigan” and the more forlorn march of “Lone Isle.”
Obsequiae demand close listening: taken from a distance the songs can have a slight tendency to run into one another, but I found that to be a soothing plus for The Palms of Sorrowed Kings. It works as stellar background music but holds rich rewards for those who take the time and attention to dive deeper. What Obsequiae have created is something no else is doing right now in metal.
Can’t ask for much more that that.
The Palms of Sorrowed Kings is available November 22 from 20 Buck Spin. For more information on Obsequiae look for the door of stone, wreathed in the leaves of the Eldritch Queen.