When we talk about metal bands being "old school," the timeline doesn't go back all that far, relatively speaking. For black metal, that might mean a second wave sound, or maybe going all the way back to ye olden days of the late 1980s for Bathory. Metal as a whole doesn't go back much past 45 years or so, if we're considering Sabbath to be the genesis. Obsequiae, however, is here to show us what real "old school" means, and it's medieval. Literally.
Obsequiae's second album, Aria of Vernal Tombs, finds the band building on the sound they established on their debut, Suspended in the Brume of Eos. Blackish metal is interspersed with, and takes inspiration from, music from centuries ago. Aria's opener, "Ay que por muy gran fremosura," is from a collection of religious musical poems dating to the mid-1200s. "L'amour dont sui espris" is a rocking little lute ditty attributed to a French troubadour from roughly the same time period. All of the medieval pieces on the album are interpreted by Vicente La Camera Mariño playing a medieval harp.
The metal tunes, in turn, take inspiration from the ancient songs that fall between them. "Autumnal Pyre" plays with the melodic ideas in "Ay que por muy gran fremosura," except with distorted guitars and blackened shrieks. But if this were just an album that alternated between medieval tunes and metal covers of those songs, it would be more novelty than art, but the band doesn't fall into that trap. Obsequiae somehow manages to live in a musical world that's both ancient and modern at the same time. It's an alternate universe where electric guitars were invented 600 years earlier and were not only used to play the music of the time, but also changed the development of that music fundamentally.
The medieval tunes take a more prominent role on Aria than they did on Brume of Eos, but there's still plenty of meaty metal to sink your teeth into. "Pools of a Vernal Paradise" may mimic the free-flowing intro of the lute piece before it, but the thundering percussion and hints of Sabbath-ian riffage bring the heavy. The closing track, "Orphic Rites of the Mystic," may be preceded by one of the most delicate harp pieces on the album, but it contrasts that with some of the most ferociously performed vocals on the album.
There are a million great moments to absorb here. The songs are complex, mixing in ornamentations well known from Renaissance and Baroque music with surprising bits of dissonance and rhythmic sleights of hand that you wouldn't expect. It's a fantastic piece of music, and as a classical guitar player, I think it would be incredible if more people dug into the music Obsequiae is drawing from. But those excursions should be in between obsessive listens and re-listens to Aria, of course.
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