Last we saw Obsidian Tongue, they redeemed us at the side of the lake on 2015’s four-way split, Northeastern Hymns. Their New England compatriots held up their corners admirably, but Obsidian Tongue stole the show (with labelmates Infera Bruo coming in a close second). Until Volume III arrives online, enjoy their split contribution below.
Genres are tricky (the Last Rites HQ ranking board is covered in blood), but I appreciate bands that will choose esoteric taglines over established subgenres, as Obsidian Tongue does in billing themselves ‘Pure Sonic Catharsis.’ The purity here is in the band’s commitment to exploration of emotion, and they recognize that true catharsis is not just screaming and blasting until the album is done and anger abated.
The core of this duo is undeniably black metal, but in the modern mold of an international group of bands like Iceland’s Zhrine, Germany’s Ultha, and fellow Americans Ash Borer. Whether you prefer your black metal prefix ‘atmospheric’ or ‘epic,’ these bands take you on an emotional journey with winding riffs over long songs that ebb and flow. The true mark of success in this genre is that moment where a certain riff or crescendo peaks, demanding your attention. The hook that makes you exclaim “oh, hell yeah!” and rewind the track to live it again. There is an art to crafting epic tunes that can land a pinnacle moment (or moments), and maintain interest through the valleys as well.
Volume III is a well-paced album that lands an impressive hook less than three minutes into “Anatkh,” and that theme is woven throughout the nearly 15 minutes of the opener. Obsidian Tongue focuses on feral black metal through the next two tracks. “Poison Green Dream” shifts from a downright screamo introduction into black metal that lives in a cabin a few miles downstream from Panopticon, and “Return to the Fields of Violet” continues the rolling thunder. Both tracks feel like long expeditions expertly trimmed to five and six minute tales.
Taken as an EP, those three songs highlight the best of Obsidian Tongue. The final true song, “Empath,” sees a few prior cracks split a bit wider. Some of the clean vocals stick to the main melody and rhythm a bit too closely or cram awkward phrases into exposed lines, but it gets most egregious here. The original theme is reintroduced at 1:35 via shredding guitar, more rumbling drums, and fierce screams that put the song back on track, but the subsequent death-growls feel more foolish than serious. After more peaks and valleys, female spoken vocals float melodramatically over synths. The adventure is appreciated, but “Empath” lacks the cohesion of the prior tracks.
Obsidian Tongue bring a lot of ambition to Volume III and succeed far more often than not. The appropriately titled “Coda – Child in Ice” ends the album in contemplative reflection. There is untapped potential here, but the passages traveled thus far are memorable and worth revisiting.