There’s just something about medieval black metal that stirs something ancient inside of me. I’ve read about how things like this can be passed down from generation to generation and while it’s still kind of a fringe science. Though when it comes to medieval music I think there might be something to it. What is it about medieval black metal, of all the subgenres and styles of black metal out there, the stirs the desire soul? Is it the cavernous atmosphere or the simple musical styles? Is it the medieval imagery oozing from every note and melody? Whatever it is, and I hope to do a study on all medieval music to really find out the why of medieval black metal’s appeal, the entire subgenre can catch my attention easily. “Aria of Vernal Tombs,” the latest album from Obsequiae, exemplifies that strange, undefinable attraction I have with medieval black metal.
I’ve heard them called “In Flames if In Flames ever did black metal” and after listening to the album at least half a dozen times I can attest that that description is not far off the mark. There is a beautiful melodic quality to the music that I haven’t really found in most medieval black metal. Usually the music on is the rawer end of the spectrum, focusing more on the atmosphere of the sound than the melody. There is plenty of atmosphere in Aria of Vernal Tombs, a sort of Camelot style King Arthur type atmosphere that is dark yet not overly dreary as so many bands tend to be (and yes I love the dreary stuff but it’s nice to have the more idealistic metal every now and then).
That of course got me thinking about music’s, specifically metal’s, relationship with history. There is definitely a link between them but what begets what? Does history have an effect on music or does music have an effect on history? The answer likely lies somewhere in the middle with them both having at least some influence on each other. But what is music’s responsibility when it comes to history? Music is the purer, more honest teaching venue when it comes to learning. Music has an ability to teach the listener a wider berth and range of subjects than does a history class. Music, not the musician’s intent, has no bias and therefore cannot sway the listener to one side of an argument or another, it simply paints the picture of what the world was. Metal, at least the bands that choice to use history, folklore, mythology, etc. have an obligation to present the material and allow the listener to attain their own meaning, whether it agrees with the purposeful intentions of the artist or not. Music is not meant to be the only voice in a conversation, merely one in a larger chorus. Music informs its listener under the guise of entertainment.
Aria of Vernal Tombs is not an overly intrusive album whose sound overwhelms the senses of the listener but rather it leads by suggestion. The music, rather than using lots of production to sound dark and medieval (it does use some production but the overall influence is, I believe, minimal) the album relies on instruments tuned and played in what we might view as a medieval style. Translating what we know about medieval music, which was nearly all church music, is not an easy task, especially given the general anti-religious bent to black metal. However, Obsequiae has managed to use instruments that can close approximate the feel and the sound of the music as it was created a thousand years ago. It’s melodic yes but I wouldn’t call the band a melodic black metal band. These guys are medieval to the core. They play a brighter style of medieval black metal but isn’t black metal all about duality and opposition to mainstream (and we all know that right now gritty “realistic” stuff is in vogue all over not just in black metal)?
Obsequiae manages to pull off a rare feat. They do play a lighter, more optimistic style of medieval black metal but the music itself remains crushing and powerful. The harp, the strongest instrument in the entire ensemble, lay down a very melodic, very naturally driven sound that the guitars and bass follow. The vocals are not present much but that’s actually a plus because it allows the music itself to take center stage and allows the listener’s own imagination to play a role in the outcome of the story within the album.
Aria of Vernal Tombs is a damn good album; it has qualities one would not expect to find in medieval black metal but there they are. The music is simple and flows easily and relies on the emotions of the musician transferred through the music to the listener to convey meaning and authenticity. The album does not rely on imagery and atmosphere, despite having very good quantities of both, to make a superb album. Listen to it and feel yourself in the saddle as a knight-errant and your way to Camelot.
Listen and support!