Although the various bands that make up the current US black metal scene tend to be fiercely iconoclastic in their pursuit of a progressive sound, there are some common sonic features that they refer back to. Obsian, the new release by Castevet, could easily be compared to the now-defunct Ludicra, or their New York neighbours Krallice; particularly the latter band, given that they share a bass player in Nick McMaster. The tribal-sounding drums, the dynamic shifts from spacious, ringing guitar chords to flurries of relentless riffing, the punchy, trebly bass tone: both Castevet and Krallice draw upon similar musical language for their progressive take on the genre.
But for me at least, Castevet have one advantage over their bassist’s other project: conciseness. While both bands create a swirling, disorienting soundscape, full of abrupt stops and starts and complex rhythm changes, Obsian is more focused than sprawling. Where Krallice gradually expand on their riffs over ten minutes or more, Castevet boil that free-wheeling tendency down to five or six. They’re almost catchy by comparison.
“Catchy” is a relative term, though. Though there are passages you could describe as hooks, the album is still defiantly progressive, with guitarist Andrew Hock churning out traditional tremolo-picking, ringing chords and arpeggiating melodies effortlessly. McMaster, too, shows off his chops, but stays firmly rooted in melody as he dances around and above the chord progressions, making full use of the low and high ends of his fretboard. Hock’s vocals are again reminiscent of Krallice for most of the songs- an impassioned take on the traditional black metal rasp. For closing number “The Seat of Severance”, however, he switches it up, with clean vocals that channel a deep sorrow in their almost crooning delivery. It adds a unique feel to the album’s climax, and hints at a possible melodic direction the band might explore in future releases.
Perhaps the gift of Obsian‘s focus is also a curse. At just over 35 minutes, it feels a tiny bit short; the band could easily have recorded one more song without overstaying their welcome. Then again, a sound like Castevet’s could become overwhelming if dragged out too long. At its compact length, the album leaves you wanting more, rather than feeling exhausted. Maybe Krallice could learn from this approach?
Obsian comes out tomorrow on Profound Lore. Check out a full stream of the album here.