Minnesota’s medieval enthusiasts Obsequiae emerged from the ashes of Autumnal Winds and created an immediate impact in the underground metal scene with their exhilarating debut Suspended in the Brume of Eos. The album was a finely composed tapestry of pagan/folk influences, enchanting medieval melodies and raspier black metal elements that was a mystical, haunting and extremely catchy listening experience. Now nearly four years following the debut, the trio of Tanner Anderson (guitars, bass, vocals), drummer Andrew Della Cagna and Spanish musician Vicente La Camera Mariño have written a monumental follow-up that takes their musical vision to its next logical progression, while retaining the qualities that made Suspended such an exciting triumph. No stone has been left unturned in the expert craftmanship of Aria of Vernal Tombs, clearly defining the artistic growth the band has shown during the intervening years between albums.
The trademark folk melodies waltz in perfect harmony with Obsequiae’s earthy and melodic black metal roots, enriching their music with stronger melodies and tighter musicianship. Mariño’s use of a medieval harp is beautifully integrated, complimenting the band’s continual progression during carefully orchestrated passages and sombre interludes like opener “Ay Que Por Muy Gran Fremosura” and penultimate track “Des Oge Mais Quer Eu Trobar.” His expert use of the instrument adds further authenticity to Obsequiae’s medieval-rooted vision, enhancing the aged feel and mystical atmosphere of the album. However, the robust beating heart of the Obsequiae sound is once again represented by Anderson’s mesmerizing guitar melodies. His triumphant and intricate leads and harmonies course through the album in all their emotive and catchy glory, bringing a ray of hope to the album’s dreary tone and enlivening the mostly mid-tempo gallop of the material. Anderson’s memorable guitar work is expertly fleshed out by warm bass harmonies and tight and expressive drumming which favors nuance over one-dimensional blasting. It’s a winning combination that sounds all the more confident and evolved on this assured second outing.
Everything on Aria of Vernal Tombs sounds more sophisticated without losing the feverish energy and excitement Obsequiae generated on their debut. Beyond the song-writing advancements, Obsequaie have matured and solidified into a far more confident unit, even down to the smaller details such as song pacing and album sequencing. And while the black metal elements conjure up images of enchanted forests and eerie shadows distorted by piercing rays of sunlight, rather than corpse painted loonies riding horseback through snowy battlefields, the album certainly doesn’t skimp on the heavy. Instead Obsequiae rely more on emotional weight, smart dynamics and alternately bleak and uplifting melodies to engage the listener.
Wide in scope and featuring impressive song-writing dynamics, Aria of Vernal Tombs is a remarkably consistent collection that works best as an album experience, with each song standing tall when isolated individually as well. Anderson’s hoarse, echoing rasps bleed emotion and despair on the bleak march of “Pools of Vernal Paradise,” a stellar tune that intertwines all the signature Obsequiae song-writing ingredients into one epic and harrowing journey. The sombre tones of “Autumnal Pyre,” anchored by heart-wrenching melodies and bursts of speed, and the dirgey march and serpentine guitar and bass harmonies of closer “Orphic Rites of the Mystic” are just a couple of notable highlights on an album full of memorable moments and top-notch song-writing. Folk metal often gets suffocated by excess layers of cheese and bombast but Obsequaie sidestep typical genre pitfalls with strong blackened overtones and a harsher vocal approach to compliment their hypnotic brand of dark metal. I’m struggling to find any significant drawbacks here, with the sonic improvements also worthy of high praise. Although not as raw or dynamic as its predecessor, Aria of Vernal Tombs features a far richer, fuller sound with warm organic tones and an uncluttered mix.
Aria of Vernal Tombs represents a supreme example of how to retain the core values of a well received debut, while strengthening and progressing an established formula without severing the crucial threads that drew listeners in to begin with. There’s been a number of turds masquerading as art forms floating around the AMG Offices of late, dutifully exposed and taken down by some of our esteemed writers. Thankfully Obsequaie have crafted a majestic album to extinguish the stench and realign the trajectory.