I’ve had a lot of fun with Rainbows in the Dark here. As much as I love metal, I love a diverse range of genres, I like being able to talk about all of them, and I like being able to stretch my comfort zone and get into stuff I would normally pass by. I’ve found a lot of albums that I’ve really enjoyed for this column, but with Osi and the Jupiter and their EP Appalachia, I have found true gold, the kind of release I hoped I would find when I picked up this column.
Osi and the Jupiter are well known for their cinematic, atmospheric soundscapes that celebrate Nordic influences and culture, but on Appalachia, the duo of guitarist/vocalist/synthist (?) Sean Kratz and cellist Kakophonix turn towards home for inspiration. Specifically, the Appalachian region of eastern Ohio, and the majestic landscapes and stories contained therein. In an attempt to craft a more personal set of songs, Kratz lets his singer-songwriter shine, with two of the three tracks being primarily driven by Kratz’s delicate fingerpicked and strummed acoustic guitar and down-home voice. It’s a little different than what one might expect, but Kratz is gentle, plaintive and above all else honest when he sings of longing for home. Not hokey or saccharine, not contrived or put-on, these are deep, profoundly emotional songs that capture every facet of celebrating and longing for home. Kakophonix’s cello is nimble and dexterous when it needs to carry the melody and allow Kratz’s guitar and synths room to breathe, but even when he just holds the harmony, it is always evocative and resonant, full of want and yearning and perfectly complimenting the other elements of the song. Every piece of these songs is perfectly in sync, and the end result is something utterly magical in its ability to captivate and transport.
To listen to Appalachia is to feel the power of the mountains, the breeze as it rolls through the forest, the sun as it shines down on the rolling hills. Every second of it takes you exactly where Osi wants you to go. “They Ride Through the Sky on Horse Drawn Chariots” is so goddamn achingly beautiful it leaves me awestruck to the point of being paralyzed, unable to do anything but drown in the gorgeous layers of ambient synth and swelling, hypnotic cello. I cannot properly put into words what comes over me when this song plays, but I’ve listened to it no less than five times in the course of writing this. It’s a breathtaking experience, one that sets the mood for the other two tracks perfectly. “Appalachia” follows next, not trying to mimic what was done before, but add to it by reduction, building layers up from simple, countrified acoustic guitar, then calm vocals, then warm cello and finally synths and backing vocals until the atmosphere is full with sound again. The way Kratz’s vocals and Kakophonix’s cello work together almost makes it feel like there are two voices here. The cello lines have a distinctly vocal quality to them and a warm, comforting tone that resonates in the soul in between Kratz’s heartfelt croons. The culmination of the album, “The Binding Will of the Mountains,” builds again from deep, ethereal synths and fleet-fingered cello melodies, before once again dropping down to just Kratz and his guitar and working in a slow crescendo up to a thundering boom of Kratz’s voice repeating over vibrant cello and droning synth. The song was released edited as a single, but you really need to experience all twelve-and-a-half minutes of it to really understand it. It’s a journey through the Appalachian countryside as much as it is a celebration of everything Osi and the Jupiter have done since they began in 2015.
Appalachia is an unbelievable release, in every sense of the word. It needs to be listened to to be truly believed and understood. I did not think that I would fall in love with it as much as I have but I would throw this in a year end list right up there with the best metal that has come out in 2020 so far, and there’s been an awful lot of it. I cannot remember the last time I was so moved by music, but this is some of the most striking, gorgeous, transcendental music I have heard this year, or ever.