Obsidian Arc

Written by: AP on 31/12/2017 15:54:36

Next to the Weaver brothers of Wolves in the Throne Room, John Haughm stands as one of the most influential musicians to the emergence of post-black metal, so understandably, there was cause for grief among the genre’s connoisseurs when he dissolved his brainchild, Agalloch, in 2016. Fans did not have to weep for long, however, as in early 2017, Haughm joined forces with drummer Trevor Matthews (of Infernus) and bassist/guitarist Stephen Parker (of Maestus) to launch the new project Pillorian, which effectively picks up the pieces after Agalloch’s disappointing final record and assembles them into an accomplished example of the genre. Agalloch was always celebrated for taking an experimental path, fusing elements of ambient, folk, doom and even post-rock into a foundation of black metal — and those same influences are easily recognised on Pillorian’s début, “Obsidian Arc”.

The album makes a convincing case for Pillorian to be considered among the best ‘new’ acts in the burgeoning post-black metal movement, and the first track, “By the Light of a Black Sun”, is not shy about underlining that ambition. Opening with a beautiful, bittersweet acoustic melody reminiscent of Oranssi Pazuzu’s song “Saturaatio”, it provides an early window into what makes this band such an evocative listening experience. The acoustic melody is slowly transfers to the background where it comes a revenant, echoing throughout the entire span of the song and intertwining itself with ringing distorted guitar arrangements to gorgeous effect until halfway, one of those transcendental instrumental passages of which Wolves in the Throne Room would be proud cascades through the soundscape, leaving the listener breathless. Weaving acoustic guitar into the core of the material is a regular feature of “Obsidian Arc”, also manifesting itself near the beginning of the standout “Vestige of Thorns” in segments that verge on dark neofolk. As with the rest of the album, it comes with a smattering of earthen black metal, but then earns distinction with a pair of epic guitar solos and thus avoids repeating the pattern of the opening track.

Indeed, one of the most crucial aspects of Pillorian’s succeeding in a saturated genre is variety. “Archaen Divinity” smothers the pace with slabs of languid doom, while on both “Forced Iron Crucible” and to a lesser extent “A Stygian Pyre”, the band pays homage to the traditionalist black metal out of which this genre rose. And the finale, “Dark Is the River of Man”, completely shuns Haughm’s icy growls in favour of moody, baritone singing, concluding the record as a brooding, full-blown neofolk piece laced with progressive grandeur. Common to all of the different strategies, however, is that whatever direction Haughm and his two compatriots choose to follow, the music remains atmospherically sound and as a result, one never feels like they are in danger of losing the thread. What it does feel like is that Pillorian have a firm grasp on what the term ‘post-black metal’ essentially means; “Obsidian Arc” is best described as a collection of innovations on a genre which is notoriously resistant to change — not an original approach as such, but unlike many other artists of their ilk, Pillorian stays true to the signature extremity of the genre and in doing so, is unlikely to be embraced by the mainstream to the degree that Alcest and Deafheaven for instance have been.

There are, however, good reasons as to why so many people are in thrall of the two aforementioned artists, and indeed Pillorian’s main source of inspiration Wolves in the Throne Room. The three have an exceptional talent for transforming their music into something otherworldly, spiritual even, and while such transcendence certainly occurs in moments on “Obsidian Arc”, Pillorian still has some distance to cover in terms of becoming a truly cathartic entity. Still, despite being debutants, the band shoots straight for the upper echelons of post-black metal and while Pillorian is not yet on par with the genre’s torch bearers, “Obsidian Arc” offers very few reasons not to become a staple of any self-respecting connoisseur’s record collection.


Download: The Vestige of Thorns, A Stygian Pyre, Dark Is the River of Man
For the fans of: Agalloch, Fen, October Falls, ORM
Listen: Facebook

Release date 10.03.2017
Eisenwald Tonschmiede

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