The winter is drawing in. The world is growing dark in more ways than one. What a beacon of warmth and light it is, thus, to be blessed with a new album from Obsequiae. It has been a rough four years since the release of their last work, so does The Palms of Sorrowed Kings soothe the soul after such a wait?
Take a moment. Channel your inner Billie Eilish. The word you’re looking for is “Duh.” The Palms of Sorrowed Kings is exactly the album we need to see us out of 2019 and into a new decade. The innovative blend of raw black metal with gentle, medieval harp interludes – all of which sound as if Henry VIII was moshing along at Hampton Court – is just the kind of originality metal needs at a time when the old guard is disappointing fans with their terrible political views/awful comeback albums/never-ending farewell tours (delete as appropriate).
Obsequiae’s core sound was codified on debut album Suspended in the Brume of Eos and was seriously upgraded with superb production values on the excellent sophomore effort Aria of Vernal Tombs. It’s a mixture of raw, guttural black metal, with anguished howls and accomplished guitar playing from frontman Tanner Anderson, and some truly superb medieval harp melodies courtesy of Vicente La Camera Mariño. Grounding all of this is the perfectly-paced drumming of newcomer Eoghan McCloskey, who seamlessly replaces Andrew Della Cagna.
The Palms of Sorrowed Kings might be soaked in blood; listen for yourself:
Less an evolution of this sound, The Palms of Sorrowed Kings offers more of a gentle refinement of everything that was great about its predecessor, like a Michelin-starred chef adding just the right amount of seasoning to a gourmet meal. This time around, there are occasional monastic chants added to the mix, giving songs like the title track an almost reverential flavour. No, they’re not becoming yet another version of Batushka: it’s just euphoric clean vocals woven neatly into the mix. But, given the band’s love of all things medieval, it definitely serves to strengthen an already superb track, and by extension the album at large.
Further solidifying their place as premier historical metal titans, they have again dug through folk music archives to find inspiration for the harp interludes. Marino’s playing is delicate and beautiful as he reinterprets genuine 13th-Century ballads like “Palästinalied” and “Per tropo fede.” The inclusion of these songs grounds the album in the period it’s trying to evoke, putting Obsequiae on par with bands like Wardruna for true historical legitimacy in music. Given that I’m a history nerd, this is music to my ears.
There’s even some solid chugging in the riffs to give real heft to the guitar lines. “Emanations before the Pythia,” for example, shows off flashes of seriously punchy riffs in between the sparkling guitar melodies. And they do sparkle. The melodies play off each other and intertwine so gracefully it’s like they’re almost alive. The best example of this is the truly impressive title track, which exhibits the best shredding of this year bar none. “Crystalline guitar melodies played in such a way that sounds as if a group of medieval monks is having a jam session before Evensong” sounds weird on the surface, but not only does Anderson pull it off, he makes it seem easy.
Listen to “L’autrier m’en aloie” and “Ceres in Emerald Streams” here:
It would tempt a lesser artist to make songs written from such a template into sprawling compositions of atmospheric black metal, or even post-metal, but Anderson keeps a tight leash on his tracks. Only “Emanations Before The Pythia” crosses the six-minute mark, and the album as a whole is over and done in the briskest 50 minutes you’ve ever heard. I confess: I don’t really like the idea of “leave the listeners wanting more” – I just want more, always – but I understand it from an artistic perspective because, given how much I want more, I will not only be buying the record in physical format as soon as possible, I’m also looking into how many of my organs I can get away with selling on the black market so that I can cross the pond and see the band play live at Migration Fest 2020.
Is there a problem with this album, I hear you ask? Can we stomach any more effusive praise, or are we going to see some legitimate critique at some point? Yes, dear readers, I do have one grumble. The production is, at times, a little muddy. Some of the guitar lines on “Ceres in Emerald Streams,” for example, feel muffled, which somewhat detracts from their overall quality. This is as much a result of me being a very fussy listener as anything else, because on repeat listens, it appears to be an issue that mercifully only affects that one track.
In sum, The Palms of Sorrowed Kings is a triumph. Showing off a refined version of the sound that made its predecessor so wildly popular, its brisk pace and tight compositions highlight the originality of the music at hand. In a year of excellent music, it’s a very firm contender for Album of the Year, and at a time when the world around us is growing darker, the comfort of such safe and talented hands is a blessed and frankly welcome relief.
Check out “Autumnal Pyre,” an offering from the previous album.
The Palms of Sorrowed Kings Track Listing:
01. L’autrier m’en aloie
02. Ceres in Emerald Streams
03. In The Garden of Hyacinths
05. The Palms of Sorrowed Kings
07. Per tropo fede
08. Lone Isle
09. Asleep In The Bracken
10. Quant voi la flor nouvelle
11. Emanations Before The Pythia
12. In hoc anni circulo
Run Time: 50 minutes
Release Date: November 22, 2019
Record Label: 20 Buck Spin