Introducing: Obsidian Kingdom
Meet the Barcelona band playing progressive music from the gut
Words: Phil Weller
Progressive music, the underdog genre ‘for the nerds’ will always be embroiled in one eternal argument and conflict: Where does the head meet the heart? Indeed, it is very easy to suggest that, the more technical a song or band becomes, where songwriting is driven by mathematics that the feel, the heart and soul that brings everything to life slowly deteriorates. Barcelonian band Obsidian Kingdom then, are blowing that whole debate wide open.
“I think progressive music has something cerebral about it,” muses frontman and guitarist Rider G Omega. Sitting on a plush leather sofa alongside guitarist-cum-keyboardist Ape Tot, who swapped instruments to join the band, he talks animatedly with his hands. His voice echoes in our surroundings, the grand Poble Espanyol Museum in South West Barcelona. “Progressive music,” he continues, “shows a rational and intelligent way of looking at the world but to me I wouldn’t define Obsidian Kingdom as just a progressive band.” Again his hands make big, arcing movements accenting and punctuating his dialog. “There are parts of OK that come from the gut; I think bands can miss the point when they become overly technical.”
Latest album, A Year With No Summer, takes a conceptual glance at the idea of certainties becoming extinct. It sees the band reflecting – but not commenting, as they are keen to point out – on what they are seeing in society today.
“The idea of A Year With No Summer is that you always rely of summer repeating itself every year, but what if it doesn’t happen? Certainties are no longer valid – peace, love, things can be over like that,” Omega snaps his fingers, the echo amplifying its impact.
“Our albums try to indict our moment in our timeline, not only as individuals but as a collective,” raps Tot, resting his bottle of Moritz lager on a mahogany tabletop. “We always talk about the way we feel about the world, ourselves and society and I thought with [previous album] Mantis we created a really personal album. A Year With No Summer reflects a common feeling of zeitgeist in society, without it being social commentary.”
Its conceptual nature, as Omega states, is of pivotal importance in terms of how the public will respond to and digest their wide-spanning sound. “The speed we as a society consume things these days I don’t think we ever appreciate what we are consuming. We are trying to make people stop and think. It’s not about one song after another and drawing your attention.” Again he snaps his fingers and that venomous echo returns. “It’s about slowing down so you can stop and stare, reflect at what’s happening. I think the main reason we write conceptual albums is because you can’t get the whole picture just looking at a piece of it. You need to put your effort into it, it becomes collaborative.”
The result is an album which slithers through slow and ominous atmospheric sections, peppered by whirling synths and a sound that closely represents the lapping of calm ocean waves. But at times it charges, a full on, extreme metal assault on the senses and at others it has a more innate rock n’ roll swagger to its persona. Their sound swallows you whole, and as Omega says, to truly appreciate this record one must become immersed within it and divulge its entirety.
Says Tot: “The main point when we started writing this album was to write songs. Mantis was just one long ass song divided into 14 tracks. So we had that musical tapas. There were songs that were really short between one and three minutes long which represented lots of tiny experiments on one massive plate. So this time we wanted songs that could stand on their own but also had more meaning when they came together. We like to compare it to a collection of postcards, of different moods and photographs of the same location. You can appreciate them on their own but when they are put together they make more sense.”
The real magic though, is that for all the intelligence and diligence that defines their approach to music writing, its conviction is very raw, primal and natural. It feels spiritual, each song flowing reverentially. You feel their collective gut churning as they gush sonic wave after sonic wave.
“Sometimes we don’t practice enough, we just talk too much,” Omega admits. “In Obsidian Kingdom it doesn’t matter how well you play your instrument it’s about how you make someone feel.
“I didn’t know how to play keyboards eight months ago. Four months earlier I didn’t know how to play guitar. I was a drummer. I changed to join the band,” reveals Tot, backing up his bandmate’s point. And if you listen to their records, you can hear that raw edge: A punk meets Hawkwind approach, an innocent, ignorance is bliss approach; they just wanna get spaced out and write good songs that you can feel. Their songs may be long and cinematic, but they are, in the heart of it all, very simple. It’s not about how it’s made; it’s about how it affects you.
Says Omega: “For new bands the revenue in album sales and in streaming is very limited so a band has to go on stage to make a living. Their songs need to make an impression and a band needs to consider what that impression will be. The hits of our time have people dancing and giving back a response physically and emotionally when they play them live.”
As far as music goes, few records in 2016 will be as emotionally draining and evocative as A Year With No Summer. But that is testament to their songsmanship; they have created something which affects your very soul on a stunningly spiritual level. And when music does that to you, you cannot ignore the tingling of your senses.