Jun 122016

Rearview Mirror


As I’ve mentioned before, I wasn’t listening to extreme metal in the late ’80s or the ’90s. With the help of some knowledgable guides, I’ve spent time over the last decade trying to catch up on what I missed. It’s a deep history, and the process of exploration isn’t nearly finished. Today’s Rearview Mirror focuses on my most recent discovery (with thanks to Jan K. once again for turning me on to the album you’re about to hear).

Obtained Enslavement was a black metal band formed in Stord, Norway, in about 1989. The band’s founding members included Pest (who went on to become the frontman for Gorgoroth both before and after Gaahl), guitarist Døden, and drummer Torquemada, and they were soon  joined by a phenomenal keyboardist who used the name Heks. Together they recorded two demos and four albums before disbanding (though additional musicians also participated on some of the albums).




I’ve only heard one of the albums so far, 1997’s Witchcraft, which was the band’s second full-length. The music is easily labeled “symphonic black metal”, but it merits the label in ways that are far more significant and meaningful than the music of most bands who have been so classified. The songs are tremendously intricate and sophisticated, such a rich and detailed tapestry of sound that although the album is immensely impressive from the very first listen, there’s really too much happening to fully comprehend and appreciate without multiple sessions.

The interplay of the metal instruments and the orchestral voices is complex, with the instruments often playing off against each other and with different classical instruments playing lead roles (including the booming sound of timpani). You really do get the feeling that there was a metal band performing in the studio with a live symphony orchestra, joined in bringing to life a singular kaleidoscopic vision. And although the symphonic arrangements play an enormous role in the album, the riffs and tremolo leads aren’t overshadowed — they’re just as good and just as vital to the album’s power and appeal. And Pest’s acid snarl is in fine form, too.

This album doesn’t just burn, it blazes. I’m having trouble thinking of any other album of symphonic metal, regardless of genre, that climbs higher than this one in integrating the two forms and exploring the possibilities that such a union might produce. Oy maybe I’m just so carried away by what I’ve heard that I’m forgetting something. Perhaps it will carry you away, too.



  1. What in the putrid stench of barren burial soil were you listening to during the 90’s, mate? Don’t get me wrong, I guess I’m just surprised. The worst part of the 90’s, even if it was also an exciting aspect, was the lack of knowledge sources (aka the interhole). I bought my last Obtained Enslavement album well into the 2000’s, because I wasn’t aware of it (them?) earlier.

    Centuries of Sorrow (1994) is by far the most grim, due to raw, sharp sound and beastly, gnarly vocals, echoing from the misty forest. It did hold melodies, but somewhat more subtly, and thus feels more trve.
    The two last albums, Soulblight and The Shepherd And The Hounds Of Hell showcased further development, building on Witchcraft.
    All of them are worth checking out!

    • I do hope to find time to check them out. And I can barely remember what I was listening to while these albums were coming out — which in itself indicates I was wasting a fair amount of time. 🙂 I guess it was punk, post-punk, grunge, what would be called indie rock today, some country music (mainly cajun). But no underground metal.

      • Shame on you. Now report to Father Synn for a metal confession. Ah, what the hell… Ye have repented thy sins by means of No Clean Singing 🙂

        By the way, when DGR presents a Rearview Mirror installment in the end of May, a thought struck my mind, that I’m not able to shake of. I have a band that I’d like to present that only fits the RM format. Are you open for outsider guest articles to this series? (It might take a long time before I actually steal some quality time to do so, though.)

        • Absolutely. There’s really no series or anything else we do here that isn’t open to guests. Father Synn is no use, by the way. He’s flogged me so often that he has developed carpal tunnel syndrome.

          • Haha… With or without S/M costume? No, wait, don’t answer that. Argh, the images on my mental canvas.
            One day when you least expect it, because you’ve already forgotten, I’ll chip in with a mirror you won’t dare speak the name Bloody Mary into.

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