Sunday, August 18, 2013

Obtained Enslavement - Witchcraft

The Taste Swap hits bullseye for a change

So a few months ago, I hit up some of my more talented fellow reviewers whose work I respected despite having very little taste in common with, and undertook a Taste Swap Challenge.  Well today is round three, wherein I swap with yet another Canadian, this time the cascadian "holy shit maaaaan this is so transcendental" genius in RapeTheDead.  True story, he was the first guy to track down my personal Facebook page and send me fanmail that way, so even if he was a shitty writer (which he isn't), I'd love him anyway.

Anywho, just like with the last one, I didn't quite get what I was expecting when I proposed the swap challenge.  I mean, he certainly provided me with black metal, no doubt, but I was expecting something along the lines of Gris or Agalloch, but instead what he gave me was more along the lines of Emperor.  And even better, it's apparently an extremely well regarded album within the black metal scene.  And even better than that, all the heaps of praise that get piled on top of the album are 100% deserved.

That's right, out of the fjordiest fjords of northern fjordland, we have Obtained Enslavement, and despite being much less of a black metal guy than certain other genres, I feel pretty confident in calling their second album, Witchcraft, one of the finest symphonic black metal albums in existence.  Obviously I'm a fan of symphonic metal in general anyway, I've been defending Rhapsody of Fire for years, but this is one of the very, very few albums to incorporate the classical influence so bloody masterfully.  At no point do the strings, keys, horns, or that goddamn awesome timpani feel tacked on as an afterthought, and at the same time, the same can be said about the traditional metal instrumentation.  It can be difficult to tell which aspect of the overall sound is leading the other at times, which is brilliant because it shouldn't really be one or the other anyway, and Obtained Enslavement not only realized that, but managed to execute it very well.

Take the metal portion of the record, for instance.  In a sense I suppose you could call it "typical", since the vast majority of the guitar work is comprised of tremolo patterns and the drums seem to blast along for a good amount of the running time, but the inherent melody in these riffs are just overwhelming.  I can't even point out specific examples because every single track manages to nail this flawlessly.  That's actually one of the most prevalent aspects about Witchcraft, the melody.  It's pretty much overwhelming in its complexity and saturation, but it never crosses into the territory of being sugary and harmless.  This album manages to beef up classical passages with aggressive morbidity whilst simultaneously giving raw and hateful black metal a sense of beauty and fullness.  The two halves of the pie complement each other in a way that has yet to be replicated in the realm of metal as a whole, and truly must be heard to be believed.  I mean, I like Anthems to the Welkin at Dusk just as much as the next guy, but this here is just in a class of its own.  Basically, if you take the elements that make up that mid era of Emperor and just make them... I dunno, better, you'd end up with something along the lines of Obtained Enslavement.  The songs are just bewilderingly well written, following twisting and linear progressions that keep the compositions interesting while never traversing the same path twice.  It's rare to find themes repeating themselves, as instead the album is treated like a journey as opposed to a collection of songs.  And I love how well it works, it takes you by the hand and leads you down a path of twisted horrors that manage to be gorgeous in their evil.

I feel pretty much unqualified to write on Witchcraft, because it feels like it deserves a much more pretentious and in-depth analysis than I'm able to provide, but like I've said plenty of times in the past, I know good music when I hear it, and goddammit Obtained Enslavement is some damn good music.  Every time I listen, I'm blown away all over again and the sheer depth and complexity provided by one would assume (if one were to judge a book by its cover, which we all do all the fucking time) to be a fairly typical black metal affair.  I feel like the album gets a little less adventurous as it goes on, with the first couple tracks being essentially classical pieces with black metal instruments and the later tracks being more black metal songs with symphonic influence, but it's really not even a flaw because it keeps the album from becoming tedious and one dimensional (not that that was possible with such a wide array of themes, ideas, and instrumentation in the first place).  I haven't even found a place to mention that the vocalist of this entire affair is fucking Pest, which is just yet another one of the dozens of marks in this album's favor (I'm not much of a Gorgoroth fan, but the albums I do like (Antichrist and Under the Sign of Hell) feature Pest, so quality just seemed to follow this man in the mid 90s).  I don't know what it is about him, but his vocals are just otherworldly to me, taking a wet, throaty rasp and just blasting it past realms of mortal capability. 

Obtained Enslavement pretty easily just watched themselves catapult into the upper echelon of black metal bands I'll listen to relatively frequently.  What they managed to do was make a black metal album melodic and complex enough and attract fans of other subgenres while keeping it as misanthropic and dark as the genre usually is, thus managing to not alienate established fans of the genre.  By virtue of that alone, this is one of the more perfect metal albums of all time from a technical standpoint.  Now, I'm not about to chuck this up next to hallowed personal favorites of mine like Melissa or The Crimson Idol or anything, but considering I have no negative things to say about an album that so brilliantly combines so many different aspects of music without ever coming across as disjointed or confusing, it's pretty hard to deny the significance of the imagination that Witchcraft captures.  From huge, sweeping majesties being grounded in morbid hatefulness in "From Times in Kingdoms..." to the raw evil being uplifted by gorgeous strings in "The Seven Witches", nothing misses the mark.  I'm astounded at how well crafted and executed this album manages to be, and it pretty solidly cements itself as the most successful entry into my infrequent Taste Swap Challenges.  RapeTheDead, thank you, you fucking owned this round.

Once again, this guy doesn't have a personal site (and only a small handful of reviews compared to the others I've done this with), but his talent is undeniable. True story, a while back I was toying with the idea of bringing in a second writer for Lair of the Bastard for the purpose of covering the genres I have a habit of neglecting, and RapeTheDead was the first and only candidate I had in mind. So yeah, read his stuff.

RATING - 97%

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