Lament, grievance, hatred, reflection, desolation. Those could be the five steps of reaction to a wrenching loss or to a wrong inflicted, the steps of an emotional processing that doesn’t end well. Those are also the titles, in order, of the songs on Lament, the remarkable 2012 EP by San Francisco’s Obolus.
The songs flow together, like a five-part suite, creating an immersive atmosphere that’s both beautiful and harrowing in its intensity. The sound of rain begins each song except the one called “Hatred”, and as the music slowly fades at the EP’s end, it rains again. Clouds hang heavy overhead throughout. Storm fronts move through and lash the listener, with brief moments of respite from the deluge before the next front begins its assault.
The first song (“Lament”) is a relatively short instrumental-only piece, comparatively subdued, with no drums to provide an undercurrent of power. The music is slow and sad, consisting principally of a layered acoustic and electric guitar melody.
The following track, “Grievance”, at first continues the mood, slowly building in volume and intensity until a surge of feedback breaks the repeating melody and the song explodes in an attack of blasting drums and a wall of distorted guitar noise. A harrowing, incoherent shrieking can be heard (as it can on “Hatred” and “Desolation”), but just barely, because it’s an almost indiscernible part of the dense background shroud of battering percussion and guitar distortion. A tremolo melody rolls through the haze in repeating waves, enhancing the song’s emotional intensity.
“Hatred” intensifies the surging power of the music. It’s an unrelenting barrage of charged energy, a moving phalanx of noise, but one that’s again pierced by memorable repeating lead-guitar melodies. Somewhere, a shattered soul is again shrieking, fighting to be heard beneath the storm’s crushing assault.
The outbreak of rage spends itself. “Reflection”, like “Lament” is another comparatively subdued instrumental piece. True to its name, the music is somber and meditative, built on ringing guitar notes and a soft, ethereal tremolo melody.
But that relatively brief period of reflection brings no peace. It yields to “Desolation”. The rain begins again, feedback rises, and the storm explodes once more in thundering double-bass kicks and a downpour of guitar distortion, with another tremolo lead arcing and falling, tracing the wrenching melodies through the murk.
Twenty minutes is just about the perfect length for this kind of spell-casting. The music relies on repetition and relatively simple melodies. It’s geared to the creation of emotional atmosphere. Even at twenty minutes, the appearance of “Reflection” past the halfway point provides an essential break. An entire album of music in the vein of “Grievance”, “Hatred” and “Desolation” might be too much, even with interludes such as “Reflection” to pull the listener out of the storm.
As it is, Lament is a riveting experience, and as impressive an offering of depressive, atmospheric black metal as I’ve heard all year.
The cover art for Lament was created by Bryan Proteau, who also created the eye-catching cover to Bell Witch’s new album as well as art for bands such as deafheaven, Atriarch, and Pallbearer.
Lament can be downloaded for free on The Flenser’s Bandcamp site (here), and pre-orders for the vinyl edition can be placed here. The Flenser has stated that the free download link will be removed once the physical release is available (projected to be mid-March 2013).