Aria Of Vernal Tombs, the second album from strangely named US act Obsequiae is certainly a breath of fresh air and quite different from most music around at the moment. Melding what seems like two separate timeframes together and seamlessly combining modern black metal along with medieval classicism is an approach that works perfectly even if the idea of it may sit somewhat uncomfortably with those that have never listened to the band. We spoke to vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Tanner Anderson of Obsequiae and Celestial in the hope of finding more understanding about his musical ideas.
Hi there Tanner and congratulations on new album Aria Of Vernal Tombs, it’s certainly proved different from much that is around at the moment.
Hi Pete. Thank you!
Firstly I was interested about your former band Autumnal Winds. You released quite a lot of demos and a compilation but took a long break before coming back as Obsequiae. I take it musically you had evolved and changed direction a fair bit at the time? Can you give us a bit of insight into your former band and why you moved on?
Autumnal Winds was something my friend Nick and I did for fun when we were young. Sort of self-discovery through mimicry. We were writing stuff that we wanted to hear and “trying on hats” so-to-speak. Passing out tapes to friends. We ended it a few years after High School. There were a few songs on the last AW demo that were later reinterpreted and used on the Obsequiae cassette because, at the time of the last AW demo, I think a more unique style was beginning to develop. Beyond a few songs, it’s almost unfair to say that Autumnal Winds became Obsequiae. Again, AW just felt like being young and learning. Whereas Obsequiae was a band that started with clear goals in mind regarding songwriting.
Your 2009 demo caught the attention of Bindrune Recordings who released it on limited cassette. How did this partnership come about? I take it these tapes are quite collectable now and rather hard to come by?
Marty from Bindrune had been (and still is) a friend for years. When we told him we were going to release this cassette, he was already interested in signing the band. So he basically just co-released it with us since we were going to work together in the future.
It took a while for you to release first album ‘Suspended in the Brume of Eos’ in 2011. I am guessing that it was quite a step up from the demo and it really enchanted me on first hearing it. Tell us a bit about the recording process here and what was involved in getting the debut album completed?
“Suspended…” was written in a years time. The cassette was released later in 2009 and the album came out in the Summer of 2011. So it wasn’t too long. As far as recording, we used a friends studio. Like I mentioned, Marty was already interested in putting out the album. So it was pretty painless as far as its release. It was just the recording that took a bit of time to complete.
Your band name and titles are very unique and strike as incredibly poetic. On first hearing the title Suspended In The Brume Of Eos’ I couldn’t help thinking of the strange worlds created by the likes of Clive Barker; there’s a real otherworldly feeling about things. Is literature and inspiration, is there any particular meaning behind things, or is it something you would want the listener to try and interpret themselves?
I think it’s better for a listener to interpret the music for themselves. Like you said, those otherworldly feelings we associate with music are our own. That’s one of the great qualities which makes art intimate.
One thing that has struck me about the music itself is that it has a timeless quality about it, on one hand rooted in modernity, presented in naturistic and atmospheric black metal and on the other a very medieval presence through plainsong and harp. Is this what you were looking at achieving and what made you decide to present such unique and even disparate musical elements together?
I’m getting this question a lot in interviews about the combining of metal and medieval music. And I think I’m getting worse at answering it the more I overthink it. But I think it’s safe to say that when you listen to “Aria…”, you’ll notice a lot of commonalities between the melodicism of the instrumental harp songs and the metal ones. To my ears, these styles work together symbiotically. The whole experience is offered and not one second of this album is presented as novelty. I think the narrative approach to songwriting is why most are pushed to describe us as black metal. But there really was a time when death metal was exploring a lot of what we are as well – if you recall the first two Amorphis or My Dying Bride albums, for example. I think we have more in common with that era of bands. Using death/doom/heavy metal narrative, atmosphere and mid-tempo approach and simultaneously drinking from another well of inspiration.
The harp is naturally a major point in weaving the two styles together certainly on the new album. How did you find Spanish medieval harpist Vicente La Camera Mariño and how did he feel about working with a band with perhaps a more extreme mind set than he would normally be involved in?
Vicente and I have been in communication for many years. When I first became interested in playing medieval music for harp, he was actually the one who pointed me in the right direction to get sheet music for the songs I was interested in. I asked him if he would be willing to play on “Aria…” and he recorded several songs for us. To echo what I said previously, I do think these styles compliment one another. Vicente has been very receptive to this music. Even when I was sending him the demos. He knows where I’m coming from with this music as well as the aesthetic. While I can’t speak for him, I think he appreciates the approach despite being different from his repertoire. It’s also worth noting that he also plays other instruments and styles of music.
Was the collaboration done via the Internet or did you actually meet up and do things together in the studio?
It was all communicated online.
Is this an important element to you that will continue into the future or will you be looking to do something perhaps a bit different for the next album?
It is a crucial element and will absolutely be a part of future works. My dreams for this music as far as what could be are likely more grandiose than what I could actually hope to achieve. So I think I could give you a lot of unrealistic ideas about what I’d like to hear on future material. Ultimately, we just have to try new things and see if they work.
I get the feeling that you are not the sort of person who just listens to metal at all but probably have a strong interest in classical music. Is this the case and does this and an interest in history lead to what we hear with Obsequiae?
I would never close myself off to any style of music whatsoever. If you’re scratching the surface of any genre of music, you’re probably not going to get to the heart of it. I identify with passion in a band or artist first and foremost before any genre or style. I think the same way about people and how we relate to one another’s passions or crafts. I have an interest in experiencing the passion and creativity of an individual. That’s what is exciting to me. It doesn’t matter if it has nothing to do with what I do. I think it’s honestly just boring to exclusively identify with art that reaffirms what you already feel.
As far as the other part of that question, yeah, musical history does inform. Especially regarding performance. But I’m not well-versed in medieval history beyond what is associated with the music itself.
I am interested in how reviews have been and what the reaction to the two albums was like. I can imagine that some people might not get what you do in the slightest, has this been the case at all or has everything on the whole been positive? I have to admit that describing your sound is not the easiest of tasks and the best way for someone to get an idea of what you do is by listening to the music itself.
The reviews have been incredibly positive thus far. I think you’re correct that not everyone understands where this music is coming from – even the positive reviews. The biggest obstacle for most people seems to be trying to understand our relevancy in the current state of metal. Which is why we occasionally get lumped in with genre cliches that we have nothing to do with and never inspired this music. Genres always serve critics more than bands that strive to move away from their confines.
Why did you decide to change labels to 20 Buck Spin and has working with them changed things at all for you?
This is going to sound simple but, basically, they approached us and it just sounded like a great opportunity. They heard the new material, offered a solid deal and they continue to do an amazing job for the band. The communication is as clear and professional as it is hilarious. Shooting the shit with Dave is the best. Just one of the greatest guys ever. Obviously I still feel very connected to the Bindrune family as well. Marty and most of the current roster of bands are some of my closest friends. Especially Austin of Panopticon. I think Bindrune has really become an unstoppable force the past few years with bands that are exploring new visions and territories. That is sort of the ethos of Bindrune or the mission statement that I identified with (and still do).
I have just had a look and somewhat unsurprisingly cannot see any mention of live activity. Is your music something that would just be too difficult to represent properly in that environment or is it something that you would like to do in the future, if so I am guessing it would need special circumstances rather than be presented as a metal gig per se?
I’ve said before that Obsequiae is not a live band. Meaning that we will likely never tour or something like that. But I’m open to the possibility of shows here and there. We did it years ago. It’s possible to do again. We’ll see.
What else do you have personally going on musically at the moment or is Obsequiae pretty much taking up all your time at present?
At present, I’m still just doing what I’ve always done with Obsequiae and Celestiial (which is long overdue for a new album [or two]). Those are the only bands I consider home. I have a long-term project called Hiraeth Eschar with some friends. In the past, I’ve tended to float around if I’m needed by others for session work or whatever. But I’m trying to do less of that these days and just focus my time on my own music. What’s most important for me is to make time to just play as well. I try to play harp every day as well as hammered dulcimer, psaltery and the hurdy gurdy (a new one for me). I think it’s important to just do it for the sake of doing it and to keep learning and exploring. It trickles into everything.