Obsidian Sea – Pathos Review

Pathos is the fourth full-length from Bulgarian trio Obsidian Sea, and their second for current home, Ripple Music. It is also not at all what I was expecting. Obsidian Sea was unknown to me until I picked this up for review but, given the band name, I was expecting some dark and stormy prog, perhaps infused with elements of doom, sludge or even some epic post-metal. That is not what I got, however. Perhaps there had been some dramatic shift in the sound since the band’s 2012 debut, Between Two Deserts, I thought to myself. But no, there hasn’t. Delving into the back catalog, the early albums sound a bit rougher around the edges, tinged with something like Pentagram and even a stoner edge, which has now been buffed to a glossy, proggy shine but, fundamentally, the sound has remained consistent. Does this latest offering at least have Pathos?

‘Pathos’ is defined as a quality that evokes pity or sadness. On Pathos, however, Obsidian Sea serve up a jaunty slice of fairly upbeat prog rock, which I would describe as mainly whimsical, rather than conjuring a sense of misery or loss. Take the lively, mid-album cut, “Mythos,” which opens in mournful mood only for a cantering, bouncy riff to open up from guitarist Anton Avramov, with Delyan Karaivanov’s bass lending a thrumming groove, as Avramov’s clean, fragile—almost tremulous—vocals dance in the foreground. Karaivanov often lends his support on the mic too, with semi-harmonized, warbling dual vocals a feature of this record. More than anything, Pathos reminded me of a slightly stripped-back version of early to mid-career Witchcraft, say around the time of The AlchemistObsidian Sea have that same, slightly dreamy quality, which sees delicately constructed melodies seeming to roll into each other, only to then be thoroughly derailed by long, winding excursions up prog alley. The aforementioned “Mythos” is a perfect example of this, although “Sisters” and “The Long Drowning” pull off the same trick. The fact these three tracks line up back to back does not help.

Obsidian Sea oscillates between groovy, alt-rock with nods to the likes of Sabbath, and prog detours that verge on, but never quite cross into, psych territory. As a result, I found Pathos a frustrating listen. It almost feels like the band couldn’t quite decide what sort of album they wanted to write and so wrote parts for two. The result is that, for me, Pathos struggles to find a defining identity, a center of gravity that holds it together. The most coherent cuts on the album, opener “Lament the Death of Wonder,” “The Revenants” and “I Love the Woods” showcase a band writing strong, prog-infused proto doom. Indeed, the latter track also captures a sense of Pathos better than anything else on the album, as Avramov’s vocals soar to greater heights and his guitar takes on a longing, bluesy quality.

At a nice tidy 40 minutes, it’s surprising how long Pathos feels. It’s not that it’s a boring record but it is disjointed, lacking flow both within songs and in the transition between tracks. At its best, like on the record’s penultimate cut, “I Love the Woods,” there is a really strong prog rock album in here, packed with loss and longing but then Obsidian Sea transitions into the meandering and discordant closer, “The Meaning of Shadows,” utterly shattering what’s just been painstakingly constructed. And this is the story across Pathos: a tale of almost but not quite. All the performances are good, with Avramov’s guitar the centerpiece, while the bass is a nice, meaty presence throughout and Bozhidar Parvanov’s work behind the kit is surprisingly intricate, more than is apparent on first listen, even if the production does let him down slightly, as I wanted a tiny bit more bass in the drums. Overall though, the sound is good and I like that the vocals are not allowed to dominate, as they so often are on this type of record.

Pathos is so close to being a good, or even very good, album. The performances are decent and there are very strong moments (like the second half of “The Long Drowning” and the middle part of “Sisters”) and indeed whole songs (including “I Love the Woods” and the opener) but the songwriting lets Obsidian Sea down in a few places, as does the pacing and structuring of the album, which robs it of flow and lessens its impact. There’s more than enough here to tell me Obsidian Sea could be great but they’ve not quite found their stride on Pathos.

Rating: 2.5/5.0
DR: 10 | Format Reviewed: PCM
Label: Ripple Music
Websites: obsidian-sea.bandcamp.com | facebook.com/ObsidianSeaDoom
Releases Worldwide: February 4th, 2022

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