It's been noticeable for a while that the metal subgenre that's being stretched most beyond what boundaries we used to believe it has is black metal. Sure, there are bands still playing the sort of raw black metal with deliberately crappy production values that we heard on the Bathory debut in 1984, but there are also bands merging the style with others as seemingly far flung as bluegrass, ambient and jazz. I don't envy the musicologists who have to track this evolution, but I can enjoy a lot of it, especially given that black metal also seems to house more dedicated musicians than any other metal subgenre. Half the black metal out there are made by one man bands and those men tend to be involved with half a dozen projects at once, with another dozen behind them.
Obnubilo is an international collaboration between musicians from Chile and Australia and this is its first release, featuring a suitably bleak title for the genre: Nascentes Morimur is the Latin for "When we are born, we are dying". All the instruments are played by Niklas K, who also wrote the music, while the vocals, both clean and harsh, are contributed by AP and Ben T. Sheehan, with the latter also responsible for the lyrics, whatever they are.
Niklas K is one Chilean part of this equation and it doesn't surprise that this is one of eight active projects for him, though he's credited under many names on the others: Ulf Kveldulfsson, NK, Kve, Niklas and Niklas Kveldulfsson for a start, with product on the shelves as Forestfather, Er Murazor, Æra, Deveneror and Swarm of Hatred. Also Chilean is AP, or Sulphur, S, Gorrge or Alfredo Pérez on releases by five other bands: Siaskel, Concatenatus, Lacrymae Rerum, Sol Sistere and The Ancient Doom. He's mostly a vocalist, though he drums for Concatenatus. Ben Sheehan is also a drummer, for Slaughter Thou in Australia, and a guitarist for Abstract the Light. He goes by multiple names too, but not so many: just Ben Sheehan and Baraath, and he only has five active projects. Whew!
So, what does this sound like? It comes described as avant-garde black metal and that seems fair, but it could be called progressive metal even more often. This opens up with strange rhythms and a bizarre urgency, as if the band was leading a psychotic waltz. Most of the vocals are clean but a harsh voice takes over at points for extra emphasis. It's jazzy, unusual and delightfully offbeat, a song that confuses on first listen but grows substantially with repeat runthroughs. And that's just track one.
With Reflections leaps more into black metal territory, with rapid blastbeats, shrieky vocals and a distant harsh call that resonates throughout. However, it has an oddly perky feel to it, with a neat melodic line and a delightfully hyperactive bass that combine to make us smile rather than escape to the forest to curse the bleakness of existence. Obnubilation continues in this vein and it's clear from later songs that aim for a similar approach that this is the core sound of the band. It spreads outwards from here, as they challenge the boundaries they set themselves, just like adventurous black metal bands are apparently supposed to do nowadays.
Unusually, my favourite songs come late in the album. Just as the first track challenged me on its first listen, the whole album followed suit and I wondered if I'd get into it at all. Repeat listens did help and this grew on me, but it never truly connects until deep into the second half.
Lost Horizons is the song that does it for me every time through. It's the longest one on offer, at a blink under seven minutes, and it does acquire an epic feel as it goes. Initially, it's nothing special, just a jagged feel that doesn't seem to have anywhere to go but that groove grows and grows and I found myself in an odd place where I was hearing all sorts of different bands at once. There's Joy Division here and Voivod and King Crimson and often at the same time, as the song hints at The Court of the Crimson King and Nothingface and Transmission, songs I've never previously thought of in a single breath. I can't fully explain it but it got well under my skin and I love it.
It's followed by These Solemn Words, which is even better in ways that are easier to explain. It may be the most prog metal song here, starting mild but interesting and growing as it goes. It also has a groove to it that continues to build, but it's not as overt as on Lost Horizons. This one grows with dynamics as much as simple progression. Icy Barren Steps wraps things up with panache, for three out of three memorable songs at the end of the album, this one featuring some intricate changes that I adored.
It's rare for me to find the strongest material late but this is hardly a traditional album. Even with these songs, it's the feel as much as anything that makes them work for me, something that's not easy to pin down and is always inherently subjective. The reasons why I dig these particular songs so much may well be the exact reasons why you don't. I know that a lot of people don't like Voivod because of their feel and, if you're one of those, you probably won't like this either. I can't call out songwriting, because it's obscured. It's hard to recommend it on a traditional line. It's not riffs or hooks or melodies or structure.
Everything comes down to feel so, if this review has piqued your interest, I'd recommend checking it out on YouTube, especially these later songs, and find out if it does the job for you. It may well. It may well not. It's certainly not going to be for everyone. It's not entirely for me, but I can tell it won't leave me alone and I like that.