Minnesota metal troupe Obsequiae’s 2011 debut, Suspended in the Brume of Eos, was a gift from the Metal Gods that deftly managed to satisfy two of the greatest needs of its time. First off, it was a very, very good melodic death metal record at a time when that genre had been written more or less written off. More impressively, it was a quality folk metal album that managed to be catchy and accessible without leaning on eye-roll-inducing genre tropes like fiddles and beer hall chants (Not there’s anything fundamentally wrong with those but by 2011 I’d had my fill of Ensiferum/Fintroll/Korpliklani.).
Obsequiae’s approach was far more measured, making use of mastermind and multi-instrumentalist Tanner Anderson’s fantastic melodic sense to craft a world of subtle magic and quiet gravitas. This wasn’t a world of bellowing, sword-wielding warriors, but flickering forest spirits and sunlit ruins. It remained sufficiently fantastical while still giving history the dignity it deserves.
Fans of that album will be pleased to know that mastermind and multi-instrumentalist Tanner Anderson’s Renfaire-inspired harmonies still reign on Aria of Vernal Tombs. True opener “Autumnal Pyre” should be instantly recognizable to anyone who enjoyed the slower burning songs from the debut like the title track and “The Wounded Fox.” The mid-paced approach is fairly consistent throughout in what is a decidedly more contemplative, even withdrawn album.
Even when they really drop the hammer, like on “Until All Ages Fall” or the speedier “Wilweorthunga,” the intent isn’t to bludgeon, as much it is to caress and ultimately overwhelm the listener (in a good way) with regal dueling guitars. The acoustic interludes are back in full force as well, and are better than ever. The gently plucked intro track “Ay que por muy gran fremosura” is a perfect mood setter, announcing the albums arrival like a sunbeam breaking through a trembling green forest canopy.
The debut’s faster songs, like “Arrows” and “In the White Fields,” weren’t necessarily worse, but they were definitely less distinct, falling more into line with what you would expect from conventional folk-inflectied melodic death metal (see: Suidakra). Those moments are still here, but they’re spare inclusion feels more natural, like on the fantastic “Pools of a Vernal Paradise,” which opens with a forceful blast before moving into some of the albums most beautifully interwoven melodies.
If there’s any issue to be taken with this approach it’s the production, which favors the guitars almost to a fault, leaving the drums thumping ineffectually (the nuanced drumming of the departed Neidhart von Reuental is dearly missed as well) in the background. It’s nothing a little volume can’t fix but I couldn’t help but long for just a little more oomph here and there. Elsewhere though, this slant only does the band favors. Aria of Vernal Tombs truly feels like a band finding a sound and coming into its own.
It’s still not perfect. The aforementioned production issues and steady tempo can let a few of the songs run into each other. But just as they did four years ago, Obsequiae deliver a real stand-out that runs counter to every trend currently clogging up your feed, be it the hordes of old school death metal clones, trad doomsters, or atmospheric black metal peddlers.
Put this one at the front of the line.