Tuesday, 10 August 2010

Ossein - Osaka (2008) 10/100.



After listening to Ossein’s outstanding debut full-length ‘Declination’, I became obsessed with this American trio. By all accounts, ‘Declination’ is one of my all-time favourite experimental black metal albums, but as easy as it was to appreciate their masterful black metal ways, Ossein aren’t a band to be pinned down by genre tags. If anything, Ossein have no set genre which they abide by and are loyal to. Since ‘Declination’ in fact, Ossein haven’t explored the black metal genres, ambient, experimental or otherwise much to my disappointment. However, given the sheer quality that was on offer with their magnificent debut, I don’t reckon they could achieve something so glorious within the same genre again. ‘Osaka’, also a 2008 release, is a full-length that seems to convey the message that Ossein aren’t able to achieve another quality album, regardless of genre, again. Maybe I’m being too harsh with my expectations, but how was I meant to accept a “visual”/electronics album as the continuation from my beloved ‘Declination’? The simple answer is -- I’m not. This album has no energy, no passion and nothing anything near as brilliant at ‘Declination’ displayed. It’s about as far removed from that album as humanly possible.

I cannot wrap my head around this album. Maybe I’m missing the point, but I feel this was a step in completely the wrong direction. Of course, musicians should be allowed to experiment with sounds and genres as they please, but to move from experimental ambient black metal to this is dumbfounding. I deluded myself into believing Ossein would come back to black metal, but was left shocked and stunned by their transformation into an abomination of an electronics act. I cannot help but be reminded of Ulver’s plight in recent years, or bands like the pretentious Procer Veneficus who have occasionally put out the most exquisite black metal album and then turned their backs on the style which gave them critical success by leaning towards ambient, electronic or even awkward acoustic based material. Ulver’s original trilogy of folk meets black metal is still regarded as one of the best in the business today, but their latter works are hit-or-miss by definition of their quirkiness.

‘Osaka’ is one of, if not the weirdest album I’ve ever had the displeasure of listening to. It’s uncomfortable in a way that I never would have expected from a band of this type -- the kind which definitely has the vision and talents to succeed within the metal genre. This album is definitely not metal. It seems to contain some light guitar work, but these sounds could quite easily be formed by a keyboard, or synthesiser -- instruments which appear to be the order of the day for Ossein on this release. Songs like the aptly named ‘Calmer’ really stick out in my mind when I’m thinking of the sound this band generates. ‘Calmer’ is a song which does contain distant vocals along the same lines of ‘Declination’, though not the rasps, but the cleanly sung Garm-esque type vocals. Mostly though, there is some whimsical vocals displayed over the top of very light, relaxing instrumentation. Songs like ‘Nagaya’ will conjure up aquatic imagery like swimming slowly beneath the surface, admiring the sheer scale of life the clear, deep and vast ocean has to offer, but besides a few minor projected images, ‘Osaka’ has very little to offer in the way of change, mood altering material or a reason for existing.

Although songs like ‘Calmer’ would seem to arrive at their destination, they’re both dull and uneventful, despite the amount of layering on the song. With the appropriately calming clean vocal chants planted unnecessarily over the top, the atmosphere of songs like this builds to an anti-climax. The tapping of the guitars, or at least I think it’s the guitars, shimmers alongside the synthesiser and programming on the song to create a feeling of meditative waves slowly and gently caressing the shore at the beach. The atmospherics, although somewhat relaxing, seem to serve no real purpose and evolve into dull events of unspectacular proportions. When this occurs, song lengths quickly become an issue because, although there is some layering going on, the structure and atmosphere within those songs feels completely unnecessary and tarnished by levels of pretension even bands like Procer Veneficus don’t understand or inflict upon their audience.

With each of the five songs amassing a time of over five minutes (‘Calmer’ coming in at over eleven painstaking minutes), there is a lot of time to reflect upon how empty the soundscapes feel. Occasionally there will be a twist, or turn within the atmosphere, as on songs like ‘Morning’, where the shimmering ambiance, tribal like drumming and haunting vocals will stir an emotion or two, but mostly the material feels lifeless, lacklustre and driven by mediocrity. There is a slightly oriental feel to the songs through the programming, as on ‘Nagaya’, but the elements aren’t drawn together very well, or consistently enough to showcase a true path or destination, or even a real point. A lack of purpose and too much pretension allows ‘Osaka’ to become a real low-point in Ossein’s brief history. Now that I’ve reviewed this album, I’ll go away and work on repressing its very existence.

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