By Sean Golyer. For many, Pillorian’s debut will be a place both familiar and new, fraught with some heavy baggage from the past. Understandably, some will color their idea of this band with past work of the members of Pillorian, most notably Haughm and the late Agalloch. Fewer still may even give a pass on this album simply forBy Sean Golyer.
|Artwork by Niels Geybels.|
For many, Pillorian’s debut will be a place both familiar and new, fraught with some heavy baggage from the past. Understandably, some will color their idea of this band with past work of the members of Pillorian, most notably Haughm and the late Agalloch. Fewer still may even give a pass on this album simply for its storied, drama-filled origin. In some way this scornful view of the band was perhaps not an oversight, as its very namesake means “of, or relating to, scorn and condemnation”, though I’m certain the choice of name is multiplicitous. My aim, however, is to take this album on its own merits and review it as such, independent from these inevitable connotations. I think Obsidian Arc deserves at least that much, as (spoiler) it’s already a standout metal release for 2017.
Make no mistake, this is a Metal album through-and-through. While it certainly contains elements of neo-folk and “dark metal” sprinkled throughout its roughly 50 minute runtime, I don’t think it’s a bold statement to assert Obsidian Arc’s raw, metallic nature. The stripped-down, traditional approach to the arrangement coupled with the speed and ferocity only briefly touched on by Haughm’s previous work is what I find to be immediately gripping about the album. It’s also completely unafraid to develop massive, riffy hooks in tracks such as the doom-like “Archaen Divinity”, the black metal ripper of “Forged Iron Crucible”, or the dark and progressive single “A Stygian Pyre”.
The backbone of this wild and untamed fury is the drumwork of Trevor Matthews. Thunderous and pummeling, it is the hate-filled glue that really brings these tracks together and adds that extra layer of energy and anger in an already mean and nihilistic album. Even Haughm’s vocals, while familiar in tone, have a scathing acidity to their delivery that is refreshing and exciting to hear. The rhythm guitars are pretty meaty and tonally dark for a black metal album, adding to overall the heaviness of the mix. Sparkling acoustic guitars are often subtly layered with the rhythm guitars, peaking out only when they need to add to a folky vibe or smartly allow the song to breath a bit while other instruments drop out for an interlude. The use of this strategy is particularly notable on opener “By the Light of the Black Sun” and “The Vestige of Thorns”. The lead guitar tone used for a few solos and ebow parts throughout are a fun calling card of Haughm’s previous work and will be familiar to many.
But I suppose the real question at play here is: is it actually good and worth your time? Does it surpass these artists’ previous work? That’s a difficult question to answer, and maybe my own cautious apprehension to it is answer enough. But I also think it to be a tad unfair. What I will say is that it is a strong debut worth listening to at least once and is a refreshing take on the “dark metal” genre. I’m certain some of you may feel it’s derivative. Others may think it solid, but not exceeding expectations. All of these are valid in their own right, and I don’t think less of anyone who comes to this conclusion. But for me personally, it scratches an itch that needs to be scratched. Some songs are weaker than others when judged individually, but after multiple listens the album really works well when taken as a whole, as it is likely intended. While I still feel like it may take another album or two to truly find their own voice, Obsidian Arc is not only a solid debut, but likely will remain a strong contender for my favorite albums this year. Time will tell.