The genrefication of music has been argued to be pointless. And while I agree that the dogmatic genrefication of music is pedantic at best, harmful at worst, I do think that use of genre in discussing music can be helpful.
It gives some type of context, some frame of reference for the listener. It helps set and manage expectations.
For example, if someone tells me a band I haven’t yet heard plays thrash metal, I have some idea of what to expect. Same with death metal. Take it one step further, and calling something melodic death metal helps me understand I should be expecting something more akin to Insomnium than Cannibal Corpse. While both carry the appellation of death metal, the gulf between those two is very wide indeed.
Furthermore, sometimes the simple fact that music is difficult to place into a genre tells you something. Take, for example, Obscure Sphinx. If asked to genrefy them I’d be hard pressed to decide if I wanted to first and foremost call them a doom band, or a post-metal band, or maybe even a sludge band. There are slow, low guitar lines ala doom. There are dynamics galore with longer songs and ambient passages, followed by bone crushing heaviness ala post-metal. And the sound is just fuzzy and dirty enough that it has those sludge overtones.
And on Void Mother, Obscure Sphinx brings all those elements to bear into one of the most impactful albums I think I have ever heard.
Hailing from Poland, Obscure Sphinx now has three full lengths under their belt, with a fourth currently in progress. Void Mother is the second release, and was my first introduction to the band. The cover art scared the crap out of me. Dolls are terrifying. My grandmother loves them, and her doll collection gives me the willies every time.
So I expected some dark atmosphere based on the cover alone. And Obscure Sphinx delivers that in spades.
First, we have to talk about Wielebna’s masterful vocals. On Void Mother she employs it all. She has captivating and haunting cleans. At times, she pulls back even more, leading to unsettling near whispers (creep doll gonna get ya!). Other times, she unleashes screams that would make a banshee jealous. And let us not ignore her growls. You’d be forgiven in thinking those were supplied by one of the other members of the band, so low and bone rattling they are. But now, all vocal duties are hers, and her ability to employ so many different styles is incredibly powerful.
The rest of the band are up to the task of backing her, and they do so with aplomb. The guitars are heavy, meaty, with that fuzz to really drive home their lines. Yet, embracing the post-metal aesthetic, they are also crystal clear at times, coruscating with the melody. The bass is ever present and appropriately punchy for the heavy music on display here. And the drums impress with their subtlety. Interesting and varied fills and runs sneak in between the thundering playing.
So impressed was I with Void Mother that I worried it would be a one off. I didn’t know how the band could honestly be this good, this early in their career without it almost being some fluke. Thankfully, it is no fluke. Their debut, Anesthetic Inhalation Ritual, and follow up epithaphs are both amazingly powerful pieces of doomy post-metal. Void Mother remains my favorite of theirs, in part because it was my introduction. This is a band well worth watching, and I have become a rabid fan of theirs. Maybe creepy dolls are okay. Yeah, not really.