Obsidian Tongue: “A Way to Expel the Sadness, Anger and Fear”

It’s always cool to see a band from your part of the country do well. In the case of Obsidian Tongue, I was thrilled to hear a great atmospheric black metal band emerge out of New England AND that their new album, Volume III, was produced by my friend Dave Kaminsky (In Human Form, Stone Healer, ex-Autolatry). The band’s sound is thick and envelops you in a storm of drums, guitars, and a tasteful blend of harsh and clean vocals. To that end, Dave’s production provides the perfect sonic canvas for the band to express its ideas around death, nature and dreams. It’s some truly mesmerizing and powerful stuff, my friends.

Check out “Return to the Field of Violet” below, and read my interview with founding member Brendan, who handles the band’s vocals and guitars.

Hello, Brendan- thanks for taking the time to chat and congrats on the new album! There may be some readers unfamiliar with the band. So could you tell us a little bit about how you got started?

Thank you. We’re both very happy to share this album with the world.

Obsidian Tongue was officially founded in 2009 when I settled on the name and started making demos, but I started writing for the project as far back as 2007. It was a solo project but I also hoped to be a live band, so by November of 2009 I found a drummer to start playing the songs live with. The original demos had bass tracks and 2 separate guitar tracks, but once we started rehearsing I came to really like the raw approach of just one guitar and drums. I then reworked the older songs into a duo format, and switched to writing new songs for the duo setup. I always wanted to marry the raw and progressive aspects of black metal in my own way, and the duo thing became a great way to accomplish that. We made a demo and started performing in 2010, and the band has continued to operate that way since then.

Why the name Obsidian Tongue? What does it represent to you?

Everywhere, you hear people calling music a universal language (tongue), a deeper level of communication. I believe that, and approach our music as its own sort of deeper, emotive communication. Obsidian is black volcanic glass, believed to hold the ability to absorb negative energies from its surroundings and the people that use it. That perfectly resembles our approach to this form of music. It’s very dark music, but I strive to write in a way that pulls the negativity out of me (truly, the initial motivation for writing black metal was a way to expel the sadness, anger and fear preventing me from personal development) and my only ambition is that the music has the capability to help other people release some of the negativity dominating them.

What is the core theme or message of the new album? As I read the lyrics, there seems to be a lot about the cycle of death and renewal through the vehicle of nature.

There is not really a theme for the album honestly. Each song stands alone as its own vibe and its own expulsion of feelings and imaginations. Perhaps in the future we will write more thematic albums, but all the songs on this album were written separate from one another and they have their own little worlds and we wanted to be true to that. Binding them with a concept would have seemed superimposed and ineffective I think.

With that said, the back cover and gatefold art of the album are inspired by the lyrics to “Return to the Fields of Violet,” which actually does continue a theme not from the album but sporadically through the band’s discography that will continue to manifest in the future – that theme is probably too long winded to type out here. The death and renewal thing you mentioned, that is indeed what the symbol represents on the back cover – a collection of human bones forming the vesica piscis. It seemed universal enough to be on the packaging, but the origin of it is from a vivid scene that came to me through the song.

Other than that each song has it’s own theme – for example, “Anatkh” explores the fear of death, fear of god, fear of divine judgement, fear of the apocalypse, the fear of eternity. For me personally it’s a huge purge of the major struggles I had with the presence of Christianity in my youth. I never took that stuff head on in OT, it seemed way too easy to start writing status quo blasphemous lyrics when I started doing black metal so I set the subject aside until there was a piece I could do a real deep, personal purge with. As soon as I wrote the intro riff to “Anatkh” I knew it was time.

“Poison Green Dream,” I cant really explain well but I know it has a very distinct feeling that could be shared. It’s kind of about escapism, an unhealthy level of escapism, and the addictive quality of it. Neglecting the timeline and the world you were born into in favor of isolation and wandering your own imagination and cyclically wounding yourself and perpetuating your own ailments through that.

“Empath” might be my favorite Obsidian song, between the composition and the lyrics. Long story short it’s my most elaborate ode to depression and desensitization to life and to yourself. There is a lot of things weaved throughout the lyrics, some of them are private memories and some are dreams, and others are simply visions that come out of trying to fathom what I’m feeling when in a dark state. It’s this mosaic of raw emotion and mind’s eye vision that I think successfully stands on it’s own as a vibe regardless of the personal bits worked into it.

You guys are from New England. Would you say our region of the country has a vibrant black metal scene? Or do you prefer to kind of keep to yourselves?

I would definitely say so. It was pretty amazing to me in the beginning, when it was just something I was into alone for so long, then after I made an online presence with my initial demos, I started searching for similar bands in the area and found a lot of bands from every state of New England doing black metal too. Through playing shows we quickly came to know a lot of the other bands and there was a lot of instant comradery between us that I still cherish. Members of other New England black metal bands are now among my closest friends. We really thrive off each other’s creativity and perseverance. We still play locally regularly to share this comradery, and we all travel to each other’s states to attend shows. There’s lots of interstate travel in the New England scene – a show in RI has lots of people from VT, NH, ME, etc coming down for instance.

There are so many excellent bands, our favorites include Falls of Rauros (of course), In Human Form, Feral, Haxen, Infera Bruo, Grue, Apollyon, Stone Healer, Din, Sarcomancy, Bog of the Infidel and others.

I love that Dave Kaminsky did the production work on this album! He did a great job giving the album a thick, enveloping sound. How did you get into contact with him?

Dave has been a very good friend for years now. We met in 2012 when his former band Autolatry played with us a couple of times. In 2013, our bands toured together for a month straight. He expressed a lot of interest in recording us, and between him knowing the band’s sound so well and REALLY knowing his shit with recording, we decided to give it a go when we recorded “The Lakeside Redemption” single in 2014. That was an excellent experience and showed what he could do for us.

After Ray joined, we opted to track it ourselves in chunks right here in town, for convenience mostly. It was kind of a crossroads after that, as we could have either mixed the entire thing ourselves too and inevitably produced a raw, lo-fi version of the record – or send it to Dave and have him work his magic and give us a more professional sound. We opted for the latter, and I think everyone who knows us would be happy we did! We sent him the tracks and said do your thing pretty much, and that is what you hear on the album. I also really wanted to spend time at his studio again because I love it there, so we scheduled sessions for vocal recording and used his piano down there for the outro track. We worked on the mix together while we were there, and truly, he was just as passionate about perfecting the record as we were and had an awesome fire and insistence with what needed to be done. I can’t recommend him to other bands enough. Go to Studio Wormwood.

Finally, what are your plans this year in terms of live shows? Any chance you’ll make it down to the NYC area and other major markets?

We haven’t planned much…while we’re happy the record is out, we’re also excited to keep working on new things. I think it’s still likely we could hit NYC this year and who knows where else, but I’d like if most of our time and energy was spent generating more new music. We have to get the world up to speed on the band, there is so much unreleased material. Performing has always been essential for Obsidian Tongue though, so if good opportunities arise we may very well take them.