Obsequiae and the Melo Legacy
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On May 27th, 20 Buck Spin will re-release Obsequiae's 2011 debut, Suspended in the Brume of Eos, with a fresh coat of wax and new art, thus preparing fans for Obsequiae sprouting new growth sometime in autumn. Did it work? The anticipation fertilizer, I mean. You'd know since there are only two outputs: You are either fist-pumping or wearing a wilted expression. (If you need a mirror, I'll wait. Just don't punch the mirror. We're not liable for your, wait for it, Damaged goods.) Unfortunately, in my virtual travels, I've found jubilation is the rarer reaction; though this repress offers an opportunity to convert the latter sufferers of no-fun over to this deserving duo who deal in Dorian mode melo magnificence. It also reaffirms that a metal slur-of-a-word appearing in the preceding sentence can still stand for virtuousness.
Well, it can if you're of a certain age, that is. Here, plain as day: melodeath. Did you recoil? Grimace? Did you sigh so deeply the exhale could snuff a bonfire of Backdraft DVDs? Or does melodeath's utterance bestow blankness? Again, age is the variable for all of the above.
Originally released on Bindrune Recordings, Suspended in the Brume of Eos called to its side a dedicated clergy of critics that sang it praises, including our founder Cosmo who had a chance to climb inside the noggins of the Minneapolis castle freaks in an interview well worth revisiting. Interestingly, the majority of the impressed happened to have roughly the same number of stump rings. Those fans were old enough to remember an era when brutality and blackness began adding melody to its timbral palette without sacrificing its convincing colors and textures. That was back when the mere sight of 'melo' – plus whatever style we now assume will be ruined – didn't cause retching, when melodeath didn't need to be Heimliched from the Walkman to expel Korny industrial chugs and two-part AOR power harmonies. Yep, believe it or not, there was a brief span of days when melodeath was, this hurts to type, good.
That reads so oddly now. Melodeath? Good? Oh no, he's lost it. Grandpa is going to die. Yet, if you're old enough to rent a car, it's a recollection you're probably unwilling to totally pack away. When I became a true metalhead, I put away childish things. . . except the dimming hope “Moonshield” wasn't an accident. It's a sentiment that simply will not expire. Well, once again, if you're of a certain age.
This leads us back to the generation of Suspended supporters. When we fell down Obsequiae's winding keep like a very special renfaire edition of House Hunters, we all buzzed with a Borg-ian connection to one self-identifying statement:
Holy hell, I wish this is what melodeath would do again.
Three years later, Suspended still inspires the same invocation. From "Altars of Moss"'s Pentangled mists of medieval riffs to "Cabin Lights"'s encapsulation of Quorthon-ian ideals, the album wows with the tone-perfect mastery of people who know and love their stuff. And they're true hook fashioners, too. It's like a wizard snorted quicksilver, watched a boiling pot, and invented the word 'beguiling' specifically for Suspended. Blondel de Nesle, also of Celestiial, wrapped leads around a maypole in the manner of the measured, counterpoint panache of Bach on Adderall. Since-departed Neidhart von Reuental supplied rhythms sturdier than a rook of adamantium. Together, the two produced a tome gilded with ornate, celestial calligraphy. Their quill was dipped in an ink of progressions rendered from bare emotion, dyed to match the hue of the enduring "Greensleeves." Trace the lines and you'd be comforted by a connection to age-old human concerns.
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Granted, if we're acting as accurate taxonomists, Suspended wasn't really melodeath. Instead, it drew from the same well that inspired melo's first practitioners, as indicated by Blondel in the aforementioned Cosmo Q&A. Obsequiae are a quarry of many touchstones: black metal, folk, choral hymns, death metal, Richard Thompson reading a book about fortification, getting drunk under a tree while imagining the leaves are rustling in plainsong, and on and on. But, the total package stirs within a dormant desire to shut Pandora's pop box, forget the last two decades, and blast the past. It's so correct when so many modern bands are calculating incorrectly, balancing the bank account before figuring out new scales.
Obsequiae do for love. Glossy Gothenburg? Recoil. Grimace. Sigh.
Okay, calm down. Agreed, who are we to say the career path of guys making a living off of art is wrong? We should rise above that slight. That said, the pang to pray for melo to turn back time a la Suspended is hard to ignore. That foxhole feels right. And the fact 20 Buck Spin is rescuing Suspended from the gaping maw of OOP eternity feels just, as well. It'd be a shame if only the cult carried its name.
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And now a philosophical comparison of after-school proportions.
If Suspended did happen to tumble into unavailability, it would meet Merciless. Turning 20 this year is Unbound, the third album of the Swedish death/thrashers and O.G. Deathlike Silence signees. Recorded in 1993 at Dan Swanö's Unisound studios, the record hearkened a change in the Merciless winds. Unbound wasn't as ice-cold as the The Awakening, their blizzard o' thrash magnum opus. Instead, it subsumed the melodic inclinations of the up-and-comers and vet innovators, killing with the frosty ferocity of a chilly Coroner taking a crack at Lunar Strain. Elsewhere, the band wore Heartwork on its sleeve, lightly twisting the solos to adhere closer to their Scandinavian sensibilities and histories. Hey, later on, there's even a cowbell.
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Sadly, success wasn't in the cards for Unbound. Given to an itty-bitty label, it moved fewer units than a '70s Dr. Who episode over its budget. Then Merciless' '94 tour fell through, causing an unplanned vacation which stretched to 1999. Of course, over that span, melodeath got bloated, turning the untainted Unbound into a cult object worthy of kudos for not selling out.
Nevertheless, this authenticity-saving hermetic chamber was sealed accidentally. When guitarist Erik Wallin spoke with Voices from the Dark regarding his band's relative obscurity, he lamented:
No, it’s probably also our own fault. We had quite some interesting offers also, for example Century Media wanted to sign us back then but we turned that offer down as we didn’t want to sign for like 6 albums. Maybe we should have done that, maybe our career would have looked differently, I don’t know. You can’t say that it’s always someone else’s fault that MERCILESS never really made it. As much as it is other people, it’s our own fault as well, I think.
Huh. That isn't exactly the party line purists tow when decrying the sullied legacy of similar shredding Swedes. It also opens up a can of worms: Who is the arbiter of good vs. bad, true vs. false: the artist or the fan? And, if there are too many of the latter, why does it always seem to taint the former? Why can't good things also be wildly popular?
What do you think? If Obsequiae goes super nova, will the fickle quickly recant their appreciation? Or is your good music good forever and ever and ever, happily ever after?
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1. "You are disappointed because you don’t like castles. Be gone, false." Fits any situation, really. Try it at your next meeting. Bark it into a fast food speaker. Use it to turn away Jehovah's foot soldiers. Always applicable.↩
2. Or, they remember an elder remembering the salad days. In other words, hi.↩
3. Stated interests on Facebook: "Castles, beer." Checkmate?↩
4. I'd trade places with anyone in In Flames in a New York minute. Then we'd cover "New York Minute." KIDS LOVE THAT DON HENLEY.↩
5. 1992's The Awakening, Anti-Mosh 01. Total bucket list record if you haven't heard it. No Mosh, No Core, No Trends, No Fun. I've broken every one today. Be gone, false.↩
6. Or selling, for that matter. Until a string of reissues in the '00s, it wasn't unusual for first presses to fetch three digits.↩
7. "What's your business plan." "I'm going to put worms into cans!" Bankruptcy, a one act play.↩
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