To Walk the Path of Sorrow


American busy-body and seemingly professional solo-project maniac Chad Davis unleashes his atmospheric black metal project's […]
By Andrew Graham
December 20, 2020
Obscurae - To Walk the Path of Sorrow album cover

American busy-body and seemingly professional solo-project maniac Chad Davis unleashes his atmospheric black metal project's sophomore album "To Walk the Path of Sorrow". In just shy of thirty-nine minutes the listener is assaulted with precisely the kind of icy nihilism and haunting vibe that one would expect of this genre (notwithstanding that it doesn't come from Norway! I promise to reign in the black metal stereotype jokes... mostly!) Before I begin appraising individual tracks, there are serious production issues (which will be discussed at length later) that make such appraisal rather difficult. How difficult exactly? Whilst I would urge the reader to have a listen for themselves, it is such that one is never always sure what is going on. That said (and hopefully not irrevocably put off!) let us dive in.

We open with "Upon the Shadowthrone of Night". There is a two-minute synth introduction that certainly sets the mood of bleak nihilism that you would expect of such a genre (and, indeed, such a song title!) Once this fades out the song begins proper, and I have to confess a period of adjustment is necessary in order to try and hear what is going on! I find it ironic that Chad's otherwise one-man project has a bassist, as he is hardly audible throughout (perhaps a cheap dig at this predominant feature of black metal!) Drums feel like more of a formality in setting tempo rather than any substantive part of the music, so we are forced to rely on guitars and synths to grope and feel our way around. It's an extreme induction into this album, but there is most definitely something weirdly arresting about it! In spite of the long running times of these songs, there's nothing too complicated here. Much repetition can be observed, but there is something almost hypnotic about this. It's minimalistic in a way and it draws us in almost without our realising it. Indeed, these comments apply to much of the content here, and the issue there is that there isn't a whole lot distinguishing one song from another.

"Amidst the Blackfrost Towers" continues much in the same vein as the opening track - minus the synth intro. One feature that is quite interesting throughout is that timings jump around a little bit. Nothing turbo-proggy but enough variation between 4/4 to 3/4 to prevent the listener from losing interest or falling asleep. Also present on this track is one of the very few moments of audible bass playing - it does exist! A relentlessly satisfying marching chord progression in the middle of this track makes it a real album highlight - I was most definitely nodding my head to this!

"Into the Fullmoon Descent" blasts straight into a haunting progression of synth chords backed up by brutal guitars and the ever-present, if soulless, drums. Contained within is more of the, quite clever, leaping between timings I mentioned. It's far from a radical, or even redeeming, feature but it does lift the content a little above mere noise. "To Walk the Path of Sorrows", the album's title track, opens genuinely menacingly. One is reminded of EMPEROR in places, the chords and orchestral synths flirting dangerously close to symphonic! "Eerie Freezing Winds" is probably the most 'conventionally black metal' song on the album, and thus it's most accessible track (if, indeed, black metal can ever be described as accessible!) It's the last proper song on the album as well and works quite effectively as a closer.

The album closes entirely with a synth track, "Stillheten", which I have to say is genuinely haunting. It reminds me of the instrumental moments featured in such bands as ANATHEMA, only much darker. It reeks of despair: so, mission accomplished? The main issue with this album is production - herein lies the section where I'm blasted by the trve kvlt crowd. As I've said a number of times in the past, I understand the desire for the 'authentic' black metal sound. However, these days even the original practitioners have approached something vaguely approximating a 'polished' sound. The reasons for the low-fi sound back in the day were largely issues of practicality: many of these bands were still learning the trade (and their instruments in some select places), lack of access to decent equipment, and a recording medium that was predominantly crappy cassette tapes. These days there's little excuse for this kind of sound in an era where even decent quality recording and mastering equipment and software is widely available and affordable.

While this 'authentic' sound is, arguably, more necessary in the aethereal realm of atmospheric black metal, it still must be audible. There is very little here that is clear. The drums (programmed drums I must add), are banished far to the background with the snare and occasional crash being the only aspects that even stand out: the kick simply isn't there. Bass is also conspicuously absent (something of a bad joke in the black metal community). The vocals are present as a heavily distorted and high-pitched shriek (as one would expect in this genre), but lyrics are not legible (are they ever?) The only aspects that really stand out - in the sense that they are audible - are the guitars and synths. The guitars are so heavily distorted (set gain to eleven!) that it's difficult to even make out chords. I have to admit however, if almost reluctantly, that the synth passages are actually quite well constructed. They certainly set a mood, so it's a shame that the rest has largely vanished into the noisy wall of sound. You might argue that this is the entire point of atmospheric black metal, but I would urge the reader to listen to any of NONE'S releases and you will see that this can be done better!

Overall, and despite much of what I have said, this is an interesting release. I confess I have only recently come to the atmospheric black metal genre, so there is a certain intellectual curiosity for me in this record. In spite of the issues of quality I have discussed, there is a definite mood set here: bleak, haunted gloom. There is a definite canvass of sound created here that must be heard to be understood. There's something legitimately arresting about this record that grabs your attention. I would urge at least one listen, but I suspect this really is one for the hardcore nerds - a narrow niche in an already narrow niche! It's not a shower, but it is somewhat of a grower!

5 / 10









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"To Walk the Path of Sorrow" Track-listing:

1. Upon the Shadowthrone of Night
2. Amidst the Blackfrost Towers
3. Into Fullmoon Descent
4. To Walk the Path of Sorrow
5. Eerie Freezing Winds
6. Stillheten

Obscurae Lineup:

Chad Davis - Guitars, synths programming, vocals
Matt Davis - Bass

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