Over a full decade and just a few albums, Minnesota’s Obsequiae has carved out quite the successful micro-niche in metal. Their melodic black metal is self-described as “medieval metal,” and the combination of Old World-y melodies and medieval/Romanesque harp interludes (not to mention the cover art) certainly gives that description validation. Their execution and chops have made it much more than just a gimmick as well; both full lengths – 2011’s Suspended in the Brume of Eos and 2015’s Aria of Vernal Tombs – received plenty of love from critics and fans alike.
The band has thus far walked their less-trodden path with musical class, an obvious passion for the material, and a lack of pretense. But while some folks will say that Obsequiae’s greatest contribution to metal is their medieval vibe, we know the truth. The truth is that the whole medieval thing is just a vehicle for their true gift: glorious, unparalleled, boundless sustain.
Not since Windir has a black metal band been so infatuated with their guitars ringing out for eternity, and like their Norwegian progenitors, Obsequiae often creates a pipe organ feel with their harmonized leads. As it was on the previous two albums, it’s almost constantly stunning on The Palms of Sorrowed Kings. But the comparisons to Windir and other influences – Dissection-esque melodic black metal, the earliest Opeth, or The Jester Race-era In Flames – stop with the pretty parts. Obsequiae is almost completely uninterested in aggression.
Also adding to that welcoming nature: the production. This is the best studio treatment that Obsequiae has had yet (which is saying something). It is clear, perfectly balanced, and absolutely suited to the band’s goal of feeding marvelously sustained melodies directly into your earballs. Buttery leads and solos just ring out of the ever-so-hazy, ever-so-distant atmosphere, sometimes as part of a unified melody, and sometimes as an extra idea that just seems to be casually hanging out in the same room as the rest of the sounds. The whole thing feels at ease with itself, and even the cold, haggard harsh vocals of main man Tanner Anderson manage to completely mesh with his gorgeous surroundings thanks to an ideal level of echo.
The possible caveat: after three full lengths, it is clear that Obsequiae intends to do one thing and one thing only. Some will respond to that with a resounding “thank god,” while others are probably starting to get their fill of the sound. Both perspectives are understandable—the band does their one thing extremely well, but there’s little ignoring that with each release, it becomes harder to distinguish one Obsequiae song from another. They are all made up of the same ingredients, and pretty often it ends up being a very satisfying bowl of riff salad. Only a few key moments – chunkier riffs in “Ceres in Emerald Streams,” majestic clean vocals in the stunning title track, some incredible swells and particularly beautiful harmonies in “Emanations Before the Pythia” – really stand out among the whole. Mostly it’s a case of “Well, that sounds great… and that sounds great… everything sounds great!”
So yes, it’s pretty often style over substance, but it’s great style. Besides, when style is over substance, the style is the substance, and head implodes upon itself in a singularity of pompous over-analysis…
Oof, just turn your brain off and sink into the sea of down pillows that makes up The Palms of Sorrowed Kings. The act of really analyzing music of this nature feels a mite odd, quite honestly, as those familiar with it just want to know if the previous level of excellence has been maintained. Yes, Obsequiae has defended their fortress with might, and they remain the only band in metal providing this exact feeling, to say nothing of their high skill level. They may eventually reach a point of diminishing returns with their one sound, but they certainly aren’t there yet. Continuing to create beautiful, escapist sounds of this quality should be more than enough to (ahem) sustain them for quite a while.