Once upon a time, in the smoke-like primordial mists of 2011, I became quite taken with a hallowed album; so taken, in fact, that I decided to make a stab at obtaining said hallowed album and began motions to embark upon a pilgrimage to the hunting grounds where I could, after patiently scanning the wire racks bursting with distractions, bag myself an example of this hallowed LP for which I had pined so long and so intensely. I donned my middlingest trousers and waited, poised on a hair-trigger, ready at any moment to leap at the opportunity to stow myself away in the car at the next occasion that someone in my family wanted to go to Best Buy. One fine Saturday, I awoke without much ado to hear that such an excursion was imminent, so I gathered myself and my funds, tucked them below the onion on my belt (which was the style at the time), and before I knew it, I had in my hand a jewel case which contained my very own copy of The Faceless‘s hallowed Akeldama; but much to the dismay of my teenage mind, I had paid well over eleven dollars for a CD which boasted only 8 songs1. “Curse this lazy band!” I thought, “They dare to have their work valued at more than $1 a song? What conspiracy has made it suddenly acceptable to put less than 12 songs and a bonus track on a compact disc? This LP isn’t that hallowed.”
That conspiracy, I eventually learned, is called editing, and it makes things better2. Everyone should learn it, lest they live their lives in ignorance of its beauty, continuously writing breathless sentences that careen carelessly past the fifty-word mark. But it takes time to learn. Fragarak are in the early stages. In their world, the concept of the edit was never invented and it’s reasonable to cram every riff your band has written since 2013 into a single towering edifice that’s just under an hour and a half long. This makes A Spectral Oblivion the archetypal “shaggy prog story,” an album which continuously rambles through tenuously connected asides that add up to nothing in particular.
I’ll begin with what Fragarak get right. Their music is a hodgepodge of influences from Opeth, Vektor, and Obscura, two of whom are really worth being influenced by. When they channel Vektor they manage it splendidly – the thrashy dual guitar riffs of “In Rumination I – The Void” mix well with a Schuldiner-esque rasp. At seven minutes, it’s a lengthy and ambitious opener, but Fragarak mostly pull it off, though the moaned clean vocals at the end don’t do the band any favors. The next song “In Rumination II – Reflections” doesn’t handle itself so well, and includes even more poorly-handled clean vocals. The riffs keep coming – and coming, and coming, and before the song is half over I’m already sick of this album. And there are 70 minutes still to go.
Did I mention that this album continuously undermines itself by jumping between prog death and acoustic instrumentals? The “Aluncinari” tracks (all four of them) only take up 12 minutes of the A Spectral Oblivion, yet each one is as tedious as the rest of the album combined. “Alucinari IV – The Fall” finally puts the album to death with some whispered vocals and the sound of a man weeping, presumably out of either boredom or joy that his imprisonment in this endless album will soon be over.
The thing that annoys me the most about A Spectral Oblivion is that a lot of it is actually good. When the band just cut the shit and play some Vektor worship or a little bit of Obscura-lite, it’s very enjoyable, and these guitarists have good chops, and more importantly, write fun riffs that feel vital and intelligent. Yet the band continuously crowds out their best features with tedious acoustic passages, watery clean vocals, and cheesy atmospherics.
The fate of A Spectral oblivion is the same as most other shaggy prog stories; it is the often under-recognized “death by the lack of a thousand cuts.” If you cut together every song on the album that doesn’t have Roman numerals in its title, you’d still end up with a 53 minute LP. That itself is no more than a starting point; at least 30 percent of these five songs should be removed, reworked, or edited in some way to achieve a lean, memorable, non-tedious piece of music. More is not only, as Yngwie said, more; more is very often too much. Fragarak would do well to learn what made Akeldama successful; the beauty of brevity and editing3.