It’s been a while since I wanted to talk about this album, and it’s one of those albums I have indeed spent a lot of time with since I first heard it around eight months ago.
Obscure Sphinx are from Poland, a country which has given us plenty of awesome music, even if most of it goes under the radar. Does not change the fact that it is there, and the output of the region is usually very high in quality – a trend I am happy to see continuing on here as well.
Which is why it’s taken so long for me to write this review. It’s been on my mind for such a long time now, but this album isn’t so easily digestible. On the surface it doesn’t appear that way at first, but as you listen to it more and more, you discover layers. And layers. And layers upon layers. This is why I’ve been kind of stuck here, coming back to this album time and time again, like some sort of religious experience. It’s strange because I can’t recall how I came across this band when I did, and usually when I run into a new band, I don’t really bother with them all too much. I’m pretty much set in my listening habits so for a band I have never heard about pretty much take over my listening habits, well then, I guess it’s safe to say that I like it.
What do I like about it? That’s the part that’s hard to put into words, but here we go.
First and foremost, I like how they take their time building songs and structures. I mean, it takes the opening track “Nothing Left” 3 minutes and 17 seconds before it finally kicks into gear. So it’s not an experience if you want a certain dose of something. You need to be prepared, and at first, quite patient for this.
However, when it comes to the patience part, it’s not entirely that difficult, either. Because the band are experts in crafting delicate passages which keep you interested for what seems to be a buildup lasting forever, but when the release comes, it really comes. You are not ever let down. When “Nothing Left” finally drops, if feels like a solar system has just imploded in your chest. It’s absolutely soul crushing how heavy it is, how it makes you feel. It changes your breathing.
I don’t like to categorize bands, unless they are like, really obvious, like for example Exodus. Straight up thrash metal, they never leave you guessing just what it is they do. Things aren’t so simple for Obscure Sphinx, and that’s a good thing. I wouldn’t call them a doom band. Or a sludge band. Or a post rock band. I’d just call them a band. A band that makes tremendously good music. Though they have elements from all those genres, they bow to none of them, and they just sound like Obscure Sphinx. That’s not an easy task.
Another thing that I must point out – and something that may not be obvious from the get go – is that Obscure Sphinx is a female fronted band. It’s also the only female fronted band I don’t hate with every ounce of my being. But not only that, I actually quite enjoy the vocals. Hell, I love the vocals. Wielebna has an outstanding, haunting, powerful voice. Sometimes she makes you feel like you can run through walls whereas at others it gives you the chills. The range of expression in her voice is a thing of beauty, and how she can transition from one to the other is really quite extraordinary.
So yes, the vocals are excellent.
But then so is everything else. It’s obvious that this band spent a lot of time crafting and composing this album. Beautiful vocal passages, intricate and haunting classical guitar work, and downright devastatingly crushing riffs can be found littered all over this opus of an album.
Let’s get into the riffs a little, because at the end of the day, even if everything else is great, if an album like this doesn’t have good guitar work, then pretty much nothing is going to save it. The riffs lay the foundation – everything else is just icing. But yes, the guitar work on this album is very well done and enjoyable. Most of them are simpler, heavier riffs – but make no mistake, that is not a negative thing. “Nieprawota” even has elements of ambient black metal in there, before it goes full on sludge, and decimates your central nervous system with a section so crushingly beautiful you just sit and think fuck, that’s a thing of beauty right there. It’s all just executed so perfectly. The band then takes it down a notch for another blackish section, working their way into a mellow instrumental. Taking their time, as always, the bands builds and builds upon this until they have exhausted themselves, and after they do, they quite literally open the portal to Hell, bringing you and everything else in along with them.
And it’s beautiful. It’s right where you want to be.
Though with all that said, this album isn’t perfect. There are some areas which do in fact drag on for longer than they should, and in tracks like “Memorare” and “Sepulchre” (besides the crushing riff in the middle) things don’t get very interesting. But besides just those two tracks, the rest of the album is truly a wonderful experience you won’t regret having.
Again, not sure how I stumbled upon this band, but I’m glad I did. I’m convinced. While not nearly as dark as Amenra, and not as suicidal as Neurosis, Obscure Sphinx have blended a truly unique listening experience that is really quite special and hard to find. Very much looking forward to the next one. This was released in 2016, so it’s been 5 years already. However, as we’ve already established, Obscure Sphinx doesn’t really like to rush things, so if that means a well composed album, then I am all for the wait.
Highlights: Nothing Left, Memories of Falling Down, Nieprawota, At the Mouth of the Sounding Sea.
Release date: September 12th, 2016
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