Review Summary: Warsaw-based post-metallers Obscure Sphinx somehow top 'Void Mother'.
Watching Obscure Sphinx grow as a band is becoming a favourite hobby of mine. A juggernaut of sludge, doom and a smidge of ambient, they got the hang of the bludgeoning thing pretty early on – mixing eight string guitars with sludgy riffs and chugs is practically a marriage made in heaven, and throwing a truly warped vocal performance over the top proves the wanton icing on the cake. While they’re only three albums in, what’s fascinating is, with every new release, the atmospheres seem to improve. The dynamic dichotomies widen. The balancing act of trying to make an album both beautiful and heavy becomes more necessary to achieve, yet harder to strike - and yet, Obscure Sphinx have managed it both times like it’s the most natural thing in the world.
Therefore, it’s fair to say that Epitaphs
is a commanding display of everything that the Poles already did fantastically on Void Mother
– the earth-shaking riffs, vocals, and the fragile atmospheres – but tweaked, more cohesive, and even better for it. What’s so satisfying about Epitaphs
is how seamlessly it flips between contemplative (remorseful, even) ambient passages to investigating the lowest recesses of an 8-string guitar, all the while staying firmly within the sludgey, post-metal niche the Poles have carved themselves – and the beautiful thing is, it doesn’t necessarily go in the way one might expect. For example, the seguing of choppy, helicopter-like riffs in the first half of ‘Nieprawota’ into its twinkly, moving conclusion may not be the traditional way around for music usually geared towards the ‘payoff’, but thankfully Obscure Sphinx make these sections as rewarding as the neck-breaking phrases they’ve already proved themselves with.
’ most distinctive feature is still the frightening Zofia ‘Wielebna’ Frás. As deft at beautiful, delicate cleans as she is at nauseating, unhuman growls and gargles, the conviction with which she manages the two (and everything in between) is arguably the album’s biggest selling point. ‘Memories of Falling Down’ shows perfectly how her performance is key to the album’s polarised makeup; its first half highlights the sheer power present in her cleaner performance, imbuing a devotional quality within the organ-led ambience, whereas the second could not be farther in mood, as Wielebna’s shouts turn to wretched spews by the time it reaches its climax. Her vocals don’t just shift with the music’s ever-progressing nature, but are a key component of the stories being told; uncomfortable, bitter stories of life and death, and getting every ounce of the emotion required to be rightly affecting.
If for a moment I may commit the cardinal sin of referring to another review, pistolpete’s write-up for Void Mother
suggested that Obscure Sphinx were on their way to becoming a ‘possible new post-metal titan’; if Void Mother
was the precursor, then Epitaphs
is certainly the realisation. In being both as achingly beautiful as it is ruthless, the Poles surely find themselves among the best of what post-metal has evolved to, and set a new benchmark for what unestablished pretenders should be striving to achieve.