While it was a pretty brutal winter here on the East Coast, we have no doubt that our friends in the North Star State had a much rougher go of it weather-wise. Or, as Tanner Anderson told us last month (more of which you’ll be able to read more about very soon in print), “I haven’t seen my testicles since November of last year.” Fortunately none of that stopped the Obsequiae mastermind from finishing up his band’s excellent second album, Aria of Vernal Tombs, which is set for release next month. Now that the weather is (finally) starting to turn, the guitarist/bassist/vocalist was kind enough to help us celebrate the occasion, at least auditorily speaking.
We’ll let him take things from here: “This playlist was chosen to welcome and celebrate the arrival of Spring. In Minnesota, where we typically endure harsher elements than most, it’s an anticipatory period of adjustment for us. Winter’s battle for daylight is surrendering to Spring’s subtle arrival and transformation. The melting of snow and ice, the thawing perfume of earth which hangs in the air, the overnight bloom and the familiar song of migrant birds – all intensified by the warmth of the sun. This is the season where Minnesotans always have a sweater with them. And everyone can see how much dog shit is left in your yard over the winter if you’re not quick to discover it while it’s still frozen. So put these in your playlist and scoop it up, slacker.”
You can pre-order a copy of Aria of Vernal Tombs from 20 Buck Spin here.
Michael Tanner–Nine Of Swords (2014)
This is a pretty recent release from the UK label A Year in the Country, intricately packaged and composed. It’s been in heavy rotation since it arrived at my door. This recording showcases four water bowls, two singing bowls, two temple bells and a cymbal without any effects or plug-ins. Nothing but their natural timbers resonate and swell into consonance throughout this contemplative 54 minute work. This is ambient drone for imaginative minds and wandering, fleeting thoughts. To me, these are essential moments to the nature of Spring. If you’ve not heard of Michael, you might also investigate Plinth, United Bible Studies or a host of other projects he’s been involved with. He’s an encyclopedia of musical knowledge and a wellspring of talent.
Clouwbeck–A Moraine (2011)
As it usually goes with people as unconcerned with media attention as Richard Skelton, his audience tends to find him. A short necessary introduction is that this is a man who has experienced what no one should have to at his age. The death of his wife in 2004 was the catalyst between his response to the tragedy and the creative grieving he undertook in the days, months and years that followed. You can read more about him online or at his own website, Corbel Stone Press, where he publishes his works in various mediums. When his *SKURA “set” was released (20 albums released under various names/projects) some years ago, I took it as an opportunity to finally obtain (in a reasonably affordable way) most of what he had taken part of during this time. Needless to say, to listen to all 20 albums accompanied by his ritual incense, his book Landings, which, among other things, names the sites that he visited frequently to record and reflect and how they correspond to his work, is a large undertaking. After taking them all in patiently, one of the recordings in particular has stood out to me since I first heard it: Clouwbeck’s A Moraine. This is music as exploration without feeling “experimental” as these are decided and rehearsed concepts that are revisited in Richard’s other works. One must respectfully assume that these songs are memories, laments and holy sites in and of themselves. A staggering, mournful cadence envelops the lush layers of strings, harmonics and transient drones. These sounds come in and out of focus in the work – just as memories reveal themselves to us over time – scored with clever repetitions and revisitations in themes that are better understood heard than analyzed here. While many of us could never pretend to understand the feelings that inspired this exploration, we should be thankful that they were executed this way and that they might stir something greater in us. Never take for granted those who would offer you a window into their hearts. They’re rare company.
Xeremia Ensemble–Troubadours & Trouveres (2006)
This is more of a personal favorite than some definitive representation of the works presented. Point being, if you’re new to medieval or early music, there are some performers or ensembles that perform these songs in their most basic forms. And there are others who embrace a more free style of improvisation, just as the troubadours, trouvères and minnesingers did in the 11th to 13th centuries. Xeremia are wonderfully imaginative and unique in their instrumental delivery. Andrew Lawrence-King, the modern medieval harp player and conductor, wrote, “The essence of good accompaniment in any style of music is the ability to react sympathetically.” This is performed flawlessly with careful and modest stylings. There is even a tune with hammered dulcimer and bowed psaltery–the latter wasn’t invented until the early 20th century, but it makes perfect sense because of the tonality and simplicity of the instrument. This is also a great example of my long-standing fantasy/theory that heavy metal began 700 years ago. Buzzing, brayed strings, obnoxious reeds, droning “power chords” of the symphonia and minds infatuated with religious symbolism. We know that, for example, after and even during the Crusades, the influence of many warring cultures on this music was tremendous as alliances came and went. This is how the symphonia morphed into a hurdy gurdy by adding drone and trompette strings or how people began using the rebec, shawm and what would eventually become the guitar. These influences had a great impact on the troubadours who famously wrote songs of love. And is there anything more vernal than a canso? Dust off your picnic blanket.
Esther Lamandier–Romances – Chansons et Complaintes Séfarades Aliénor (1982)
If you’re in a mood for longing, sorrowful deliveries, look no further. This is stirring music–perfect for days where you can perch yourself somewhere without distraction. While her best work arguably isn’t on this album, this is the one I pull out the most often. It sounds much more like a journey. If her interpretation of “La Rosa Enflorece” doesn’t get you, I don’t know what will. Few Sephardic songs are as deeply moving (maybe “El rey de Francia”) as this one. Esther was also criticized by snobs for showing a generous amount of cleavage on her album Decameron. Perfect. If anyone is curious to hear Esther’s influence on Obsequiae, listen to her arrangement of “A Que Por Muy Gran Fremosura” and see if it reminds you of anything on our new album.
Crimson Relic–Purgatory’s Reign (1996)
This is an album that rarely leaves my playlist in the warmer months. While Divine Eve likely doesn’t need introduction, the brief existence of Xan Hammack’s Crimson Relic does. What was supposed to be the follow-up to Divine Eve’s As the Angels Weep resulted in an entirely different form of expression. Crimson Relic possessed the galloping heaviness of Divine Eve but structured in classic heavy metal form. The Celtic Frost influence is obvious but, at the time this was released, every band from Alastis to Mystic Charm to Sadness to Obituary had sort of made that influence its own. In the case of Crimson Relic, this is also true in the attitude of the delivery as it drudges through infectious rhythm sections and superbly crafted leads and hooks throughout. It’s conveniently just mid-paced enough for you to really warm up your headbanging for Summer as well.
*Pre-order a copy of Aria of Vernal Tombs here