Okay, I’m kind of tardy to the party on this one. But in my defense, there’s a lot of music out there and it can’t be helped that sometimes it takes a while for something great to come to your attention.
Now, in this case that while happened to last two and a half years, but I got there eventually, right?
Fortunately for me, the time since release has done nothing to dull the edge of Obsidian Kingdom’s opus Mantiis. Some bands pick a genre and stick to the rulebook, sounding like everyone else as a result. Obsidian Kingdom seem to have picked every genre here, and so they sound like nobody else. Black metal and quieter ballad-like moments, prog rock wanderings and djent-style carnage: it seems Obsidian Kingdom have a mastery of damn near every style out there, and they use them all to enthralling effect here. There’s a fearlessness in the way they jump from style to style, but also an airtight understanding of songwriting and the changes, while unpredictable, never feel uncomfortable or gimmicky. It’s a special skill that allows them to get away their bold choices, like following up a meandering saxophone solo with a full-on black metal outro on “Last of the Light.”
The closest parallel to Obsidian Kingdom’s style may be (currently missing in action) progressive metal band Porcupine Tree, another band who are equally captivating whether they are belting out riffs of the densest metal or soothing your soul with moments of contemplative beauty. But here too Obsidian Kingdom’s bravery marks them as something special. Their approach to the album as a whole is more that of an experimental symphony than a conventional rock album, designed to be absorbed as a unit, with songs often fading into each other and track lengths mostly kept around two and a half minutes. These short tracks and unconventional structures meant the album is absolutely crammed with musical ideas, but even with the density and diversity of material, it feels like a cohesive whole. It is held together by the strength of the writing, individual parts memorable and hooky despite their complexity. On my second listen I could feel the anticipation when parts that had really struck me first time through were coming up, and yet there was plenty new to discover and consider, displaying a dazzling balance between intricacy and catchy fun.
It may have taken me a couple of years to find this one, but I’m very glad I did. Obsidian Kingdom are progressive metal at its best, thought-provoking and rich but also ballsy and gripping. Mantiis is essential listening for any fan of the genre, a celebration of everything it has to offer. Last of the Light is embedded below as a sampler of what the album has to offer and the rest of the album is available on the group’s Bandcamp.