Wednesday, January 13, 2010
Omen - Observance Of Baphometized
I have written and re-written this review numerous times, persuaded to do so by the cassette in question and its constant reconfiguration in my brain. Each time I listened to Observance Of Baphometized, my viewpoints would change like the wind. I would listen to it one night, think it was mediocre. Listen to it while having a few drinks with my buddies, and it would be awesome. Listen to it while beginning to go to sleep, and fall asleep to it. Omen's release is an enigma of description. It would be too easy to call it raw black metal but that's all it really is when the chips have fallen and there are no hands left to play. So, for the purpose of where I stand now, I think that the release is neither amazing or crap but falling somewhere in between, in the region where no band really wants to be - that ever swampy and muddied district of mediocre raw black metal. I've actually had to take notes while trying to discern how I felt about songs on this release, something I've never done before and hope to never have to do again. Observance of Baphometized is a wholly inconsistent album in terms of quality. Though my conclusion may put a sour expression on the faces of some, I honestly don't find a whole lot here worth dwelling on. Luckily, it seems that most people respond better to honesty than blatant inflation or deflation. Personally, I don't think it's bad to be mediocre on early releases and with Omen still lingering in the demo stage of their so-far-short-lived-career, I can appreciate the foreshadowing a mediocre demo shows. Omen, though presented here in mediocrity, also show aspects of their sound which they attack really well at times.
Upon pushing the play button down on my ancient tape player, an eerie introductory piece, "Overture: In The Unholy Rituals," sets the scene for the opening salvo. Cold caves, deep dank smelly sewers, black pits full of excrement and bones, the atmosphere is laden with a moisture of death and rot. The cracks of thunder leading into the real opening track persuading the listener forth, like a beacon of hellish fire; the culminating crack of thunder initiating the true adventure and giving rise to new imagery blood covered snow, bleak landscapes, ancient rituals, basically the same atmosphere that you would get from any demo of this sort. This is one area which I felt could have been focused on more. What specific atmospheres are being portrays through this music? It is clear Omen are trying to create these feelings through their music with the use of a couple tracks of ambience, sounds of wind, storms, and explosions as well as the use of some chanted vocals on a few tracks. I don't get anything specific however from all this attempted atmosphere. The intro has a great production, with thick low tones and well balanced treble as well. This is great until the music kicks in. "Wrath of the Black Witchery's" production takes a nosedive with the guitars and bass and drums all sounding powerless compared to the introduction. The guitars are low in the mix, the bass mixed too loud and boomy (coming from a bassist, this is almost a ridiculous notion as I tend to love bass heavy albums - I'm looking at you Barbaros) and the drums have no real punch to them. Though the production on some of the tracks on Observance... do sound better, that immediate intensity that was envisioned by Omen has been lost. I can see what Omen were intending though: A strong quick transition in an appropriate, albeit cliché place, would make use of the introduction's building tension and draw the listener into Observance's demonic nightmare. Sadly, this is not the case here and the transition sounds dead and amateurish. "Wrath Of The Black Witchery," like most of the EP's material, is like being teased by a beautiful woman and then watching her leave the room, neglecting to release the handcuffs holding you to the bed-posts. This song misses the climax.
The album continues with a cover of Nebiras’ “Blessed Be Thy” and Omen don’t me particularly determined to seek out the original. The song is too simple my tastes placing all its eggs in one glass basket and balancing it above a Punji pit. With only one real discernable riff, perhaps two if you consider a minor variation a new riff, “Blessed Be Thy” fails to capitalize on the whole minimalist attitude which I’ve been in the mood for recently. I’ve spun Satanic Blood at least four times in the past two weeks. I honestly don’t understand the reason why Omen would choose this song as a cover though. Omen’s original material is far more interesting and resilient than the Nebiras track and the other cover track, a cover of Langsuyr’s “My Oath For Thee” suits Omen’s natural style of raw, simple – but apparently not Nebiras simple – black metal. The bass on the track is horribly horn-sounding like in other places but the repetitiveness on this cover really hurts it much more and even for such a simple track, there are timing issues between instruments. Though Omen were probably really drunk at the time of the recording, that doesn’t give a good enough reason to put the song on the release. The other cover though I really like. At first listen, I thought that the song would fall to the same arrows that the Nebiras cover was taken down by. I felt the song was too hasty and simple and never let the brilliant atmosphere that escapes to the song’s surface take hold. After a second listen though, I really took a fondness for the short simplicity and control over allowing the song to maintain that rout. The small dosage of atmosphere is something that the rest of the untouched original tracks on the album also contain. A song overburdened by the atmosphere would make the song maybe seem out of place. Of course, this is more of a comment on the original composers, Langsuyr, but Omen chose a song here that really found a home on the release and made me interested in checking out the Langsuyr discography. The vocal variation on this track is also awesome, with Omen vocalist Aijal providing some dreadful moans and wails.
For me though, “Into Diabolical Ancientness” is the best song on Observance. It’s just well written. The song has interesting moments that flow into each other helped by an excellent vocal showing that provides intensity, momentum and atmosphere with clean vocals in the style of the Langsuyr cover. These half-wailed, half chanted vocals really add texture to Omen’s material when they include them. If these vocals were used at other points in the earlier songs, I would find the album more memorable, more varied and also less generic. The album could have taken a more dramatic turn and contain a heavier sense of vision. I think “Into Diabolical Ancientness” is a track that Omen should take into consideration when modeling future material. It epitomizes their style – subtle atmosphere, intense raw black metal riffs and simple construction. The albums finale cleans off whatever dirt may have been left, ending the album in a similar way as it started with sounds native to cave dwellers.
Two other tracks appear* on this release though both are renditions of earlier songs on the reel. The first is a much more atmospheric version of fourth track “The Devil Incarnate” with windy and stormy effects thrown into the mix. I like the song a lot and the juxtaposition between the calming atmosphere and chaotic black metal work nicely to create an environment for intellectual stimulation. The subtle atmosphere provided by the use of the mentioned naturalistic samples and a dreary distant percussive tone lend the track a laid back, nostalgic and distinctly underground vibe. The second additional track is a remixed and re-mastered version of “Into Diabolical Ancientness.” I prefer the original recording to this version. It seems more fiery, more intense and raw and the chanted vocals that give the original a lot of its atmosphere have been practically kicked aside and cast back into the often ignored recesses of the mix. A nice addition but as usual, the original reigns supreme for “Into Diabolical Ancientness.” Overall, Omen’s Observance of Baphometized has left me indifferent towards many tracks though with a couple of songs which I do really appreciate, I may find myself drawn to other tracks after yet more listens. For now though, I stick to my claim that this is nothing more and nothing less and a plain and simple ‘alright.’
* The track listing in the image only shows one of the extra tracks but my copy has two. I asked the owner of Thorn Laceration Records about it and he was the one who told me what the extra track was. I guess it was a last minute addition and the inserts had already been printed before the tapes were reproduced. Either way, just letting everyone know I'm not making my tape's track listing up.