Obsequiae - Suspended in the Brume of Eos
Bindrune Recordings
Melodic Folk/Black Metal
12 songs (42 minutes)
Release year: 2011
Reviewed by Jake
Surprise of the month

Suspended in the Brume of Eos is the superb debut album from Minneapolis band Obsequiae, who just might be the first U.S. act to stand a chance of making a difference in black metal. (Cry me a river, Liturgy). They're arguably not quite a black metal band—they're closer to folk metal on paper. Nevertheless, the meat and bones of their album is trebly tremolo riffs burning through classical European scales over relentless snares and beneath an incomprehensibly reverberating emotive screech; isolate the stuff from context and it could probably hang with the Trve Kvlt. There are no keyboard parts here, though, no organs or strings; and no grandstanding pomposity or oh-so-scary-tough-guy dissonance. In place of all the usual noise, you'll find acoustic folk interludes rooted in medieval music rather than the more common Pagan or Celtic, trading off with gently blistering guitar-bass-drums metal that stretches those scalar ideas over the rhythmic energy of the great British metal bands and filters it all through a cold, spare atmosphere. The resulting sound is one made of strikingly coherent melodies, and defiantly so. I'm not one to decry wholesale the invasion of the dreaded hipster into the metal culture, but it is true that a small army of “forward-thinking” metal musicians, most of them Americans in hoodies, have been breaking the same rules in the same ways for so long that by now we all know exactly what “breaking the rules” means and sounds like. Obsequiae have broken those rules, eschewing sleepy ambience and jagged rhythms to create a sound that's highly listenable, intricate rather than excessive, and genuinely cutting-edge.

The album's rhythm is built on a more-or-less alternation between three- to six-minute tunes in the idiom I've described and those medieval folk interludes. That last three-word phrase will scare some people off with good reason, but this is not nerd metal; the frank and quiet starkness of the interludes (which restrict themselves mostly to the acoustic guitar, never approaching schmaltz or bombast) and the pace and dedication of the metal songs would completely alienate that bookish girl you know who likes Nightwish. (I do not at all wish to imply that there is anything wrong with bookish girls. Only with Nightwish.) As I've said, the interludes and the songs are built on the same ideas melodically, but the reason I hesitate to apply the descriptor “folk metal” is that even the most refined and respectable bands in that field, like Ensiferum and Wintersun, accomplish something like a fusion or meeting of two genres, which is not really what Obsequiae have done. Imagine instead that metal had simply taken the progressions of medieval folk as its initial melodic basis, rather than rock and roll and the blues. Suspended in the Brume of Eos is a taste of what the metal bands of that alternate universe are recording en masse in 2011. The songs, then, won't necessarily call the medieval aesthetic to mind (though the cover art does that draw that connection for you). Multi-instrumentalist Neidhart von Reudtal and guitarist/vocalist Blondel de Nesle (I presume these are stage names) have appropriated just enough of that Norwegian wind-in-the-speakers guitar tone that black metal bands use so effectively to evoke natural beauty, and coupled it with a tasteful amount of spacey noodling—especially in opening number Altars of Moss, which may briefly ring bells for Mastodon fans. If the result evokes an image for you, it's less likely to be knights and Christian kings than a clear, dark winter sky. The mix is not as unrefined as the Norwegians used to like theirs, though; while the treble does occasionally swallow a guitar lead, most tragically at the beginning of the otherwise fantastic Arrows, there's a highly unusal amount of bass here.

It's a good thing, too, because the contributions of Reudtal, the one-man rhythm section, give the album much of its character. He's as fast and dynamic a drummer as this stuff calls for, but he really shines on the four-string. Despite the warm and round tone he plays with, there's more than a little Iron Maiden in his bouncy, high-speed basslines, and he makes creative choices when it comes to accenting, complementing, or countering the guitar parts. Nesle is listed as the sole composer, but these feel like basslines written by a bass player; my instinct is that Reudtal was given fairly free reign to play what he wanted, and it's to Nesle's credit as a songwriter that he saw the wisdom in that.

This is beautiful stuff. It's dynamic, moving, brutal, loud and sincere. It's tough to say whether Obsequiae can live up to a debut this good, but I'm excited to find out. Suspended in the Brume of Eos of could be the start of a phenomenal discography; get in on the ground floor and buy the album.

Killing Songs :
Suspended in the Brume of Eos, Arrows, The Starlit Shore, Cabin Lights
Jake quoted 93 / 100
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