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Obsequiae's Suspended in the Brume of Eos (Bindrune, 2011) is one my favorite metal records this year. It's esoteric yet inviting, intimate yet robust. Current metal rarely feels "hidden", but this record feels like a tromp through some mythic forest. It turns out that this feeling comes from a medieval influence - not from ren fairs, but from sitting down with musical scores and translating olden times into modern metal. Via email, I asked band members Blondel de Nesle and Neidhard von Reuental about this. They seemed touchy about revealing their identities, even though the Internet and their own publicist did this readily. It's tough to hide in 2011 - especially when your music is this good.
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Imagine my disappointment when I removed the shrinkwrap, opened up the digipak, and found no liner notes! (The images are pretty, though.) Why deny listeners knowledge of what you're singing about?
Blondel de Nesle: I wouldn't say we're denying listeners anything by choosing to not reveal everything. We did include lyrics with the previous cassette release and we had the option of an insert for this album. Ultimately we decided that an abundance of text would have distracted the visual aesthetic we achieved with the layout. With all the castles and stuff.
Neidhart von Reuental: You are disappointed because you don't like castles. Be gone, false.
What are you singing about, anyway?
BDN: Mainly themes regarding animals, wheat, ritual and dawn for this album. The lyrics contain dreamlike fantasies which attempt to illustrate simple tasks, observations, or notions and carry their symbolism into greater realizations beyond what they are at the surface: often times predictable and often times not extremely profound. Many of the songs are written from the perspective of being out-of-body or as an audience/spectator of a scene that exists outside of time or reality. Other [songs] are more straight-forward. "The Wounded Fox", for example, is pretty evident. To never take for granted how easily deceitful prey can become the hunter. The fox is also significant in medieval folklore. This is an excerpt from that track:
Here lies deception sheltered by wounds
With tainted fur the impostor rests
Nestles the mire and only here infests
Calm are the woods and fortified
To the wounded who live without bane
Echoes recall their suffering
For the living to acknowledge pain
Calm are the woods and fortified
To the wounded who rest without grace
A fervent hunger grows within
And death now marks his face
Here lies treachery hidden by grass
With stillness and composure
Those who would feed upon carrion
Willing leave their enclosures
Evidently, the word "obsequiae" comes from the Latin words for funeral rites and religious submission. Why did you choose this name?
BDN: I'm pretty sure you just answered this question for me.
NVR: It is an excellent name for a Heavy Metal band that sounds like us.
"Brume" is such a wonderful word. It is French, and "Eos" is Greek. What made you bring these words together?
BDN: To illustrate the idea of being captivated and completely surrendered to the approaching dawn. This "brume" represents a state of mind and describes the scenery before dawn – when only the fog at the horizon is illuminated.
The album cover is the Touch tapestry from The Lady and the Unicorn French tapestries from the 15th century. Why did you pick this particular tapestry?
BDN: We originally used the Sound tapestry for the cassette. This time around, and for the sake of continuity, we used Touch because we found it suiting given the context of the album title and the images we wished to portray: The anticipation of greeting new sunlight, basking in its warmth, and becoming lost in it all - touching the world beyond.
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In ethos, this record reminds me of early In Flames, when the band was trying to mesh folk influences with death metal without making "folk metal". Did you draw any inspiration from this?
BDN: That's a fair comparison but, no, we were not inspired by In Flames. We are inspired by many of the same influences that inspired bands like In Flames. I know that because I remember reading interviews with bands like Dark Tranquillity prior to them (or any of those bands like Ceremonial Oath, In Flames) releasing albums. Personally, I always preferred the chaotic phrasing/melodic passages and raging atmosphere of the earliest DT material to anything like In Flames. I think I still have an early issue of No Glam Fags where Niklas Sundin was interviewed and talked shit about the commercialization of death metal and cited influence from '80s German Thrash, NWOBHM, and (early) Greek stuff like Varathron and Rotting Christ. Those genres are absolutely the heartwood of my metal influence.
There are always exceptions of course. There were bands in the early/mid '90s that I loved and took influence from. I could start listing them off, but I know the list would be endless, so I'll keep it short and to-the-point: non-Gothenburg sounding melodic black/death (Eucharist, early Dawn, Miscreant (SWE)), older death/doom in the vein of stuff like Ceremonium, Phlebotomized, Dissolving of Prodigy, Czech/Greek/Swiss black metal (with an emphasis on METAL and not overly-dramatic cheese that most of those countries were producing), and tons more from that era. When I've given this Obsequiae record to old friends of mine that share my tastes, I've described it as "Ophthalamia covering Fall of the Leafe's first album in Hades' rehearsal room using only the Dorian mode". I think that's a hilariously accurate description.
NVR: My drumming has nothing to do with In Flames, and the bass, well, that doesn't either. I don't listen to anyone who would label themselves Folk Metal. I like Bathory, early Enslaved, Hades, Agatus, Dark Millennium, Solstice UK. But the way I play drums and bass has nothing to do with those bands. The same is true for him. We do things that are unique to us. The rest we have in common is really no huge coincidence in that its all heavy metal.
Tanner, I'm a big fan of your other band Celestiial, whose music is much slower and seemingly intended as an extension of nature. In contrast, Obsequiae has speed (at times) and clear metal roots. How do you see these bands in relation to each other?
BDN: No relationship exists between Obsequiae and Celestiial. They're completely removed from one another. Both NVR and I have our respective bands/projects outside of Obsequiae. Obsequiae is a collaborative effort with more approachable and immediate goals in songwriting than something like Celestiial which is, simply put, a response to experiences within nature.
Wintry Minnesota seems to be an overt influence on Celestiial. Does it provide any inspiration for Obsequiae?
BDN: It does not. Our music is not a response to environment.
Where does your fascination with medieval things come from?
BDN: I'm not fascinated with "medieval things". It's strictly musical. I'm the polar opposite personality of someone into medieval history, fantasy novels, role-playing, video games, weapons, Renaissance Fairs/dress-up stuff, etc. I hope those people like our music. But I'm just really into instruments, instrument-making, and the musical aspects of medieval music. Even in that regard, I feel shadowed as a novice by composition instructors or musicians who play in Ensembles of Early Music. The only common ground I share with the "all things medieval" stereotype is likely the belief that anyone who dislikes castles is probably a dick.
NVR: It's just good Heavy Metal sense to write about things in olden times. What are we going to do? Write about politics? The best heavy metal has always been mired in escapism and mysticism.
How would you compare your bringing medieval music into metal with "neo-classical" attempts to bring classical music into metal?
BDN: We're not composing sterile, advanced exercises. Also let's hear a "neo-classical" metal band consider approaching Messiaen or Scriabin. Windham Hell was the rare exception by succeeding in composing atmosphere and introducing tasteful, dark influences to classical music.
NVR: We're not strictly medieval by any means, but our music does have a lot in common with it. Tanner was already writing homophony in Dorian mode before the medieval thing came into play, so when he thought of calling it a Latin name and the tapestries came along, it just made sense to make the rest fit from there. Enter thundering, clanging, and crashing drums and cymbals, pentatonic Baroque bass, mythic vocals, and it works pretty well, don't you think?
Why the pseudonyms? And why simply take other people's names? "Blondel de Nesle" was a 12th or 13th century French troubadour, and "Neidhart von Reuental" was a 13th century German minnesinger.
BDN: Right. They're also reportedly deceased. It's sort of tongue-in-cheek. I apologize if our sarcasm doesn't translate in text. We didn't want to use our names. I have tomes of sheet music by the Trouveres/Troubadours/Minnesangers including the named composers. This is how we decided to be the respective metal incarnations of them for the band. It isn't intended to be a joke as much as an honest tribute to great metal pseudonyms. I mean that in the most un-ironic way possible. We're not trying to imply [we are] wandering metal minstrels or anything so brilliant. These characters have an obvious connection to what our music is about. It's not like we claimed "Minnesotan Minnesinger Metal" or credited "Angelo Sasso" on drums. We take this band seriously. So don't go telling the friar. We would implore women in our chambers to call us only by our Christian names in the throes of passion.
NVR: Well, you just rendered his pseudonym useless by your mentioning of Celestiial. Thanks a lot. You will never know my true name!
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I interviewed Nightbringer and asked them the following questions:
Arguably, heavy metal is completely dependent upon electricity. Could something like Nightbringer have existed in, say, the Middle Ages? If so, what would it have been like?
Nightbringer’s answers were as follows: "Well, I'd have to say that most of heavy metal music as such, the actual sound of it, is a purely modern phenomenon, dependent on modern devices. However, black metal often has an abrasive and droning quality that could be said to have affinities with certain aspects of what we know of ancient folk music. Could something in the spirit of what we are doing have existed in the Middle Ages? To a certain extent I think it is possible, though it is difficult to speculate. In the East, certainly, there were esoteric orders devoted to the very things we are trying to approach, though I don't know in what way they may have made use of music."
How would you answer these questions for Obsequiae?
BDN: That really isn't an easy question to answer plainly. I agree with Nightbringer's response regarding the droning quality of genres like black metal as well as noise/ambient, drone/doom, etc. There is a relationship there. We do tend to associate "drone" with "ancient" because archaic music derives from plainchant and drone. This has evolved and been preserved in so many musical forms. Listen to the music of the Baka people for another lesser-known example of primitive yet complex harmony and drone. My point being that drone itself is less exclusive and more universal than we give due credit. And Medieval/Early Music is not defined through drone alone but rather the concept of Organum.
The fact is, no one knows the precise rhythms or stylistic flourishes of the melodies left to us from many of the Codices or Cantigas, etc. To interpret written medieval music is to put color to a black and white photo. No one does it the same way. And we have no way of knowing how the originals sounded when they were composed. Everyone colors this sound differently. We paint medieval music within the "style" of heavy metal if that makes sense. We're not a "medieval metal" band. We don't use period instruments and, simply put, our performance is rooted in metal. We're just inspired by medieval music and themes of medieval art.
It might sound insulting to even hear someone dare mutter that they are composing "modern medieval music". But if you look at more popular composers who have done this in some of their works, like Arvo Pärt, or bands like Extra Life, you can see how this is possible. Personally, I'm using the influence of phrasing by ensembles or instrumentalists/vocalists who I believe interpret the works with the most true, vibrant colors. And I'm not writing one linear melody that depends on itself. Every melody you hear in Obsequiae exists with its counterpoint. A constant dual-guitar voice. Which you'll also recognize in harmonized leads running rampant in the likes of Iron Maiden. Except I'm not writing in all thirds or other straight-harmonies. The guitars come together to create one intended voice and the bass compliments this voice with its own counterpoint – sometimes deviating and other times completely sympathetic. When I write, I think of the melodies as voice first – not guitar. That should be obvious to the attentive ear. As lovers and listeners of medieval music and true metal, it just makes sense to us to marry the two to explore and expand the common ground that exists between them.
Nightbringer mentions that there were "esoteric orders devoted to the very things we are trying to approach". This is absolutely true. But not exclusively regarding "medieval music". The majority of works survived BECAUSE OF THE CHURCH. Not because Templars who worshipped Baphomet buried them beneath a crypt in hopes that a metal band would use them 700 years later. The majority of these works were written with prayer to God. And so their very rhythms follow the syllables of Christian prayer, not of a time signature. Keep that thought in mind when listening to vocal music in particular. Those breaths between melodic phrasing are why people don't understand what time signatures are being used. There are none. Every musical phrase depends on the pulse and language of prayer. If you think about it, implementing medieval phrasing in a metal context then mocks the very breath and pulse of "God". It perverts his praise in a smartass sort of way.
To finally answer your question – No, Obsequiae would not have existed in the medieval period. We would have likely been employed scrubbing boats somewhere. All the better.
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