Review Summary: Despair with a sense of melody.
Before Gorgoroth came into existence, there was a band by the name of Obtained Enslavement. Formed in 1989 by Pest, Gorgoroth's vocalist on the albums "Antichrist" and "Under The Sign Of Hell", Obtained Enslavement play melodic Black Metal. The band didn't release a full length until 1994 and although they were formed at the curve of the 90s they didn't start recording demos until 1992. After three more albums the members went their separate ways. I am reviewing their second to last offering "Soulblight", an album I stumbled across on eMusic.com.
When I had an eMusic account I was fourteen or fifteen years old and had an allowance on how many albums I could buy via the site. Around this time I was getting more and more into bands like Mayhem and Dawn Of Relic and by browsing their Black Metal archives I found "Soulblight". I never really appreciated it until recently when I realized it had been festering in my iTunes library among thousands of other songs. So I decided to give it another chance now that I'm older and appreciate Black Metal and most of the artists in the sub-genre.
Obtained Enslavement begin the record with an intro track, purely instrumental, and instead of letting the intro fade out or end abruptly, like some bands do, when the last note is played you are engulfed by the song "The Dark Night Of Souls". The keyboards are a vital part of their style. They drive the melody most of, if not, the whole way through. The bad production actually helps rather than hinders creating a bleak atmosphere of cacophonous racket making blast beats the main focus and allowing the guitars to shine when they step out from behind the keys. The production style is similar to that of Dimmu Borgir's "Stormblast" as the keyboards are louder than anything else when they come in. The guitar plays an integral part, swooping in to play against the melody with its own making for a unique sound, their harmonies playing well off of one another. The bass is unheard of, which is common with most releases such as this, but it isn't missed. The other musicians give you enough to digest. Pest's vocals are at their best and follow the music very well. Whether he is screeching at you like a banshee or offering the occasional throaty growl (or moaning in agony on the song "Nightbreed") he knows when and where they are appropriate and doesn't try to steal the spotlight.
As with most Black Metal albums, you are bound to find what you don't like about a record on the first listen. With "Soulblight", the most annoying quality is that it wears on your ears towards the end. With this production value, albeit it suits the mood, the songs slowly start to sound alike. Unless you're willing to take the initiative to listen to each track individually and not spin the whole thing the first time you will find yourself overwhelmed by the incessant pounding of the drums and measures that are nothing but blasting. The song "Voices From A Starless Domain" uses a riff that is the same chord progression as "Funeral Fog" by Mayhem, only altered slightly. This is a common theme with their riffing style. Not that they're badly written imitations of other bands but the same riffs seem to keep showing up. What saves them from their mundane fate are the guitar leads and, of course, the keyboards which change up the atmosphere and overshadow what could otherwise be seen as the same old style of Black Metal.
Ultimately, Obtained Enslavement have brought us an album that does not sacrifice for the sake of the genre and uses a melodic approach to balance out the hostility and despair lurking within each track. It's been done before but these guys do it better than most of their peers. They may not be the most original or diverse Black Metal group but they know how to write great songs. Even when they steal ideas from the rest of their catalog to make a full length. I'll be listening to this for the next few days.