Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Obolus- Lament(2012)

Obolus- Lament

Obolus are another in an increasing number of obscure, mysterious Raw Black Metal bands... or solo projects... or whatever. As is increasingly common, no one really knows(creepy inflection) who makes up Obolus. Frankly, it's a played out gimmick that Deathspell Omega have been toying with for over a decade now. Regardless, this San Fransisco based Black Metal project have released this new EP through Flenser Records, a label well know for signing only the most progressive and noise-y Black Metal bands, so one would expect Lament to push many, many boundaries and enrage many, many hardcore cloak-and-chalice Black Metal elitist.

But it really doesn't. Lament is in many ways a fairly standard slice of raw, atmospheric Black Metal heavily influenced by the Depressive Black Metal sound. Elements of Burzum, Emperor and Leviathan all show up through Lament's five tracks of cold, disenchanted bleakness. And while nothing on display here is particularly original, Lament is as solid and even exhilarating as one could hope it would be, featuring mature and legitimately atmospheric compositions that make excellent use of keyboards to maximize the grim chills.

The strongest aspect of Lament is easily it's massive, yet extremely raw, production. I have heard Obolus referred to by some as part of the "Blackgaze" movement(considering they are from California, that makes some sense). I don't hear these elements in the actual compositions, but Lament's production could certainly give off this illusion. Making use of a "wall-of-sound" style production popular with many modern Shoegaze acts, Lament sounds just massive, with the oddly comforting fuzz of the guitars and bass creates a bed of dissonance for the listener to snuggle up into. The vocals hide just beneath the static, shrieking out as though they were voices in your head, pleading with you to end their suffering. Lament just has a tremendous sound, which allows it to overcome its fairly standard songwriting.

Standard, but not poor at all. Lament can be absolutely thrilling at times, like the explosive and haunting "Hatred," which blisters with raw riffs, chilling keyboards and damaged, fearful screams. Repetition is used to excellent effect throughout Lament to create atmospheric tapestries and deep wells of darkness. "Grievance" in particular shows these powerful techniques in full effect, starting with a highly atmospheric lead over the sounds of falling rain and suffocating static, before a slathering of Emperor-meets-Darkthrone style raw Black Metal kicks in, the keyboards providing a mournful chorus to a drama of raw, blistering Norwegian Black Metal.

Not having any expectations for this album might have helped, but Lament has been one of my favorite albums of 2012 so far. It isn't original, but the mature and complex musical compositions combined with some of the best production I have heard in Black Metal all year allows Lament to overcome it's standard origins and be something greater than the sum of it's parts. Flesner Records has been giving this spectacular little EP away for free via Bandcamp(while also releasing the album in physical form), so toss away the misgivings and give this a serious spin.

Rating: 8.5/10

Sigh - In Somniphobia (2012)

  Sigh - In Somniphobia

Despite Sigh's humble beginnings as a less than adventurous black metal band, their reputation has been built on the avant-garde stylings they've cultivated since the late 90s. For me, Imaginary Sonicscape was the apex of their career; it's a marathon of weirdness that remains one of my favorite albums. Word that In Somniphobia would be a darker Imaginary Sonicscape unsurprisingly got me and many others eager for its arrival, and after months of waiting, here it is. Sigh have delivered on their promise for an experience reminiscent of Imaginary Sonicscape, but unfortunately it is sorely lacking in the brilliance of the latter album. The strength of Sigh's previous work was their ability to ground their experimentation in a rock solid foundation of metal; the hand claps, synths, weird electronic voices and organ solos all complimented the core of the music, those wonderful riffs, leads, choruses and solos that make much of Sigh's work so memorable. In Somniphobia feels first and foremost an experimental experience rather than a metal one, and it's very much to the music's detriment. I'm not a metal purest, or afraid of experimentation, but the weirdness' lack of a strong foundation leaves all the synth and sax oddness feeling hollow.

There is no absolute dearth of riffing, but the guitars lack the same substance as the best of what Sigh has previously offered. It's immediately evident from opener “Purgatorium”, where the riffs and leads seem like they're there more to complement the organs and strings rather than to bring any real substance to the song. Melodic leads in general make a big showing, but they feel weak and don't muster the same force as those in, say, “Corpsecry-Angelfall” from Imaginary Sonicscape. Mirai's vocals are at his weakest here as well; while his growls are generally derided, I find that they presented a lot of emotion and texture in the past, whereas here they feel more standard. The catchy choruses are missing as well, denying us the same glorious hooks of Sigh's previous work. All in all, it is quite frankly boring; the album fails to justify it's running time, which falls just short of 65 minutes. Many of the longer songs individually carry on with a similar mix of self-indulgence and fruitlessness (see: “Amongst The Phantoms”).

There are times when the experimentation works well. The brooding spaciness of “Somniphobia”, the urgent excitement of “L’excommunication a Minuit” and the album's highlight, the sinister and jazzy “Amnesia”, provide a brilliant series of tracks that present some of the album's best guitar work and experimentation, and a great mixing of the two. Sigh clearly still has the chops to produce great music, but unfortunately the album as a whole doesn't represent that very well.