Saturday, October 15, 2016

Black Table - Obelisk

By Justin C. It's funny how memory works: I liked Black Table’s EP, Sentinel quite a bit, but due to no fault of the band, they eventually drifted into the “black metal” portion of my brain. But listening to Sentinel and Obelisk back to back reminded me that plain old "black metal" doesn't really cover either release.
By Justin C.

Artwork by Eric LaCombe.

It's funny how memory works: I liked Black Table’s EP, Sentinel quite a bit, but due to no fault of the band, they eventually drifted into the “black metal” portion of my brain. But listening to Sentinel and Obelisk back to back reminded me that plain old "black metal" doesn't really cover either release. I find genre-dissection more and more tedious as I write more reviews, but people like thumbnail descriptions--even I do. So let's ignore the "post-black metal" tag and go with a hearty mix of black metal, a touch of sludge, and a whole lot of excellence.

Obelisk is a quantum leap forward for Black Table. Their style is sharpening and becoming uniquely their own, and they've put together a full album with all the peaks and valleys in the right places. The first song draws you in right away--"Equilateral" starts as a spare, barely-there piece, with just two distorted notes ringing out, but they’re joined by more and more guitar figures appearing and disappearing before the whole song quietly drifts away. It’s the soundtrack of carbon and hydrogen atoms colliding and joining to become something "that will one day become complex and sentient," to quote vocalist Mers Sumida’s description, and it’s both heavy and delicate at the same time.

Black Table 2013. Photos © John Mourlas. All rights reserved.

At this point I should probably cite my source: A tiny handmade book that was briefly available from the band as a companion piece to the album. It contains all kinds of interesting information, like the fact that "Equilateral" was inspired by a work of art called The Way We Were by Matthew Day Jackson, a sculpture that starts with a simple pyramid and geometrically progresses through a series of shapes that morph into a human skull. It’s an evolutionary sequence of sorts, which inspired the musical biochemistry of "Equilateral." We also get an Aztec creation story that involves an original supernatural creature being dismembered to create the universe ("Gargantua"), and the albatross from Coleridge's The Rime of the Ancient Mariner used as a metaphor for depression ("Helm"). I always applaud a band that gets more creative than the beaten-to-death Satanic and Lovecraftian tropes, and this is indeed above and beyond.

Black Table 2013. Photos © John Mourlas. All rights reserved.

I could probably nerd out for pages about the themes of the album, but you don’t need a book or a dissertation from me to enjoy the album--the music itself is more than strong enough to stand on its own. You don't need to know the background behind "Helm" to feel the harrowing power of the full band pounding away under Sumida's wrenching screams. She's really pushed her technique up a notch on this album. The true limits of the human vocal chords are probably difficult to calculate, but she's got to be getting close. They've also included what sounds like a touch of electronic doubling here and there to add in just that much more abrasion. And for a little variety, "Cromagnon" starts with two cleanly chanting vocals--with Sumida as a son and a male voice as the boy's father--describing a legend about how humans first learned to harness fire.

It would be easy to focus solely on Sumida's vocals, given how strong and emotive they are, but that would be a disservice to the rest of the band. "Obtuse" may start out with a freight train riff, but the quiet beauty of the undistorted guitar at around the two-minute mark makes the heavy sections even more striking by contrast. "Gargantua"'s doomy crawl is eventually joined by separate guitar lines that dance around each other, and all of these melodic moments are backed by an unerring and unrelenting rhythm section. If you want to get a sense of just some of their fireworks, check out the staggered artillery blasts in the first half of "Homo Ergaster." You can listen to this album over and over, focusing on a different instrument each time, and still come away with something new. It's sometimes easy to forget how much richness you can get from even the simplest dynamic shifts, but Obelisk is a good reminder of how to do this right without sacrificing an ounce of heaviness.

It's hard to sum up an album this rich, but I'll make it simple: Buy this. Listen to it. A lot.

Tagged with 2016, Black Table, John Mourlas, Justin C, post-black metal
2 comments:
  1. I see that the guitarist is wearing a Dead Empires 'Waves t-shirt. I have got one too. :)

    ReplyDelete