I’ve been spinning and spinning and spinning Pillorian’s Obsidian Arc but I just keep starting at a blank white screen. It’s impossible to underscore the dissolution of Agalloch, even for someone like me who didn’t listen to the band much. And it’s difficult to ignore statements of one John Haughm self-describing himself as a “visionary.” Well, I’m re-reading this paragraph and my first sentence is calling back the last three hours I spent listening to this today. And the words “visionary black metal” aren’t feeling appropriate.
Don’t think that this review is some sort of humbling mission. You think what you want of yourself or this album—whatever. It’s been out for bit so you’ve probably formed your own opinion on it. I’ll give it this: it’s okay. Obsidian Arc certainly feels long (even though it’s only 42-minutes) but it doesn’t feel huge or, frankly, all that engaging. Something about this album, some facet, is just underwhelming.
The album begins strongly enough with “By the Light of a Black Sun.” It’s got a nice acoustic lead and powerful sounding drums. The guitar rhythm is driving and it even feels like Pillorian is up for an evil, blackened dawn. Like a new leaf is being turned over. But over eight-minutes the track doesn’t depart from its mood and things start to lose their edge. Is it still listenable? Yes. But things just start to lose their luster and even when the breakdown kicks the song just never picks up again. And in a sense, that’s this album.
The tracks on Obsidian Arc are good. That’s it, they’re good. But for some reason the songs seldom veer towards being great. All too often things feel so safe. It’s like there’s a looming threat to set a dry field on fire but the band keeps snuffing the match. Too much of a loaded metaphor? Probably. There’s just no chances taken here. It’s black metal with some pretty sounding leads and good atmosphere. The moody final track “Dark is the River of Man” has an especially strong, dark mood. It’s the most desolate sounding piece, actually. But it comes too little, too late for an already shoulder shrugging experience.
“But Chris, you handsome, out-of-touch, early-30s grindcore obsessive,” you might begin. “Why the hell are you reviewing this album? It’s far too refined and well-produced for your taste.” It’s true that I usually review and favor louder, more aggressive stuff that’s been pressed to a sheet of aluminum foil and promised to make me partially deaf in one ear. Pillorian is the kind of band I enjoy, but thus far I’ve enjoyed them in chunks. And it feels like it’s capable of more.
Pillorian is bound to please some of the more hardcore fan base, probably. Maybe. And if you’re one of those go ahead and throw an “album of the year” comment below and hate on me (oh, no!). Haughm is starting anew and Obsidian Arc feels like it’s working on building a new sound, but starting with the familiar. This is a somewhat promising start. We’ll see what the future holds.