The Palms Of Sorrowed Kings is an austere and majestic journey through the world of folk-inspired black metal. This album by Minneapolis based Obsequiae (Latin for mass funerary rites) is both accessible yet engaging and is a fantastic listen from start to finish. The album tends towards an atmospheric quality for most of its run-time. Even when the full band kicks in the music never feels too ‘in your face’ and is not aggressively demanding of your attention. Even in the album’s most double-kick laden passages the music feels warm and palatable, even dare I say, fun (contrary to what the band’s name would suggest). Much of the full band sections of the record make me feel like I am traipsing through a medieval fare only to stumble across a duel between two armour-clad knights of Arthurian legend cheered on by a throng of onlookers.
The Palms Of Sorrowed Kings teems with acoustic passages (mostly played on medieval harp), soaring leads, double bass kicks and driving black metal riffs. I would say this album is not an extremely ‘heavy’ release, although it has all the hallmark distortion and wails expected of black metal. The tone as a whole is melodic and uplifting, as it to be expected of folky black metal. The album features a wide variety of instruments almost all played by what seems to be the primary member of the band Tanner Anderson. Anderson not only performs the bass, guitars and vocals on the album, he also adds recordings of hurdy-gurdy, hammered dulcimer, bowed psaltery, mazhar and zill. I could not find these listed on the Bandcamp page; however, I did find this list on the Metal Archives entry for this album. I don’t seem to hear these instruments in the tracks that feature the full band, though knowledge of their sounds is limited at best. The zill can be clearly heard on Track 12 (“In hoc anni circulo”), as well as some medieval percussion and some other instruments. It is possible all of those instruments listed above are featured in this final track though I cannot tell for certain. There are two more members mentioned on the lineup, Eoghan McCloskey, who recorded the drums, and Vincente La Camera Mariño, who performed the medieval harp. There are four interlude tracks on the album that feature this instrument and a fifth one which was discussed above. These understated, yet beautiful sections are probably my favourite parts of the album. It gives the music a sense of antiquity, drawing us into a different era, one of green fields, monks and kings.
The album is of high quality on all fronts. The mixing and mastering is pleasant on the ear and the playing throughout is tight, although the drums are somewhat ‘dry’ in the mix (this can be a personal preference, but I would prefer a bit more reverb). The screamed vocals, although washed out and soft, are easy on the ears. And though they can sound abrasive at times, the mix lessens the harshness of the performance, hence the warm and inviting quality this album emits. Some clean vocals are featured towards the end of “Lone Isle”. These are gentle and atmospheric and buried in the mix, but they do provide some welcome variety in the vocal performance. Although it is hard to hear any lyrics while listening to the album I went and did some reading and the lyrical content perfectly matches the sound of the album. They are pastoral and introspective. Often tinged with sadness yet also occasionally positive and uplifting, the lyrics carry a sense of strength, sometimes marked by the futility of existence. It’s a perfect complement to the rest of the record.
One of the standout elements of Sorrowed Kings, other than the interludes mentioned earlier, is the melodic electric guitar leads. These are the parts of the album that truly draws you into this forgotten time. The guitar melodies have a modal quality to them, which I would guess are inspired by popular modes used in the medieval period. Modes for those who do not know are just another term for musical scales. Although the major and minor scales are also modes, modal playing is often recognised as using one of the modes other than those two (such as Dorian or Lydian) to write your melodies. These melodies of the ancient past truly contribute to the unique harmonic quality of this recording and possibly create some of the ‘fun’ and ‘uplifting’ qualities I stated the album possessed.
If I am to criticise the album on any front I must say that is a bit of a one-trick pony. The album, though thoroughly enjoyable, does have a one-dimensional sound. The music is not extremely progressive and it falls back on traditional verse-chorus structures for the most part. This does make the music easier to consume and get into, though after quite a few listens I am starting to tire slightly of it. I think Sorrowed Kings is very accessible, mainly due to the easy-to-consume song structures and its consistency in musical textures and this is what starts to grow predictable after multiple listens.
With all that said don’t give this album a miss. It is an incredible listen and a no-brainer if you are a fan of medieval history and black metal.
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You can acquire a digital or hard copy (CD, LP) of The Palms of Sorrowed Kings via the 20 Buck Spin Bandcamp page.