OBSEQUIAE "Middle Ages Metal"

By Dr. Abner Mality

Harken unto me, for I have a tale to tell thee. A tale where days long past meet and merge with the present century. A story of music and inspiration and the bridging of a gap of centuries. I speak now of Obsequiae and Tanner Anderson, the man who is Obsequiae.

Many heavy metal bands claim to have a "medieval" or "gothic" sound, but none has ever taken the concept as far as Obsequiae. Minnesota native Tanner Anderson took his fascination with the music of the 10th through the 13th centuries and transformed it into a heavy metal form. Obsequiae is a truly unique band where the songs themselves are composed in accordance with medieval scales and structure, but played with the fury and heaviness that metal fans have come to expect. The lyrical themes are also completely derived from a medieval perspective. There are also slices of pure Middle Ages balladry featuring harp and lute mixed with the metal. Anderson's background as an authority on music of this elder period insures that Obsequiae has utmost fidelity to its source material.

The newest Obsequiae offering is "Aria of Vernal Tombs", out now on the fine 20 Buck Spin label and I really recommend it if you're looking for exotic and unique sounds. Twas my honor to speak with good fellow Anderson about the one of a kind project he has devoted sweat and blood to. Read on, thou neophytes, and open thy minds...

WORMWOOD CHRONICLES: Thanks and many hails for speaking to us! Let me start by asking what style came first for you: rock/metal music or medieval/classical stylings?

TANNER ANDERSON:  Metal came first with guitar when I was about 12 or 13.  I started taking harp and hammered dulcimer lessons when I was 16.  But I didn't really know anything about medieval music until years after that.  Back then, I was learning typical folk repertoire like O'Carolan tunes and just becoming familiar with those instruments.

WC: When did you make the decision to try and combine musical styles in the fashion of Obsequiae? Many bands have a medieval “feel” like Candlemass but you are much more rigidly influenced by actual medieval/Dark Ages scales and musical patterns.

TA: I think we all tend to absorb our influences over time.  It's sort of just second nature to me at this point – to play what comes naturally.  I don't feel like I'm truly commanding medieval influence into heavy metal.  But I do think that the years of listening, studying and playing this music has left me with my own style that's difficult to deviate away from.  Both a blessing and a curse.
WC: Was all of Obsequiae’s music conceived and practiced on traditional or acoustic instruments first or were they practiced on electric right from the start?

TA: None of the metal songs were conceived on acoustic instruments.  Everything I write begins with an electric guitar.
WC: I mentioned in my review that Obsequiae’s music really does sound like medieval musicians had access to modern instruments and technology. Do you think people of that time could have really appreciated this music…or would you have been burned at the stake as a black magician?

TA: Well, that's an interesting thought.  I don't think this music lends itself well to an age before our own.  With a lot of nonsecular music, the voice itself was the divine instrument.  So even if you were to take away the screaming, arranged all of this music for period instruments, it would still be unconventional (if not completely offensive) to the ears of anyone during the medieval ages.
WC: Do you find the medieval world more appealing than our current times? Not  just in terms of music, but as a whole?

TA: No, I don't.  For any number of reasons.  While I think the mysticism of that age is inspiring, I would not want to return to any age of rampant disease, enslavement, war or feudalism.  Of course, the world is still a barbaric place.  It likely always will be given our nature to exploit and consume.  But that yearning for an older, backwards age is something I don't understand.  There is still mystery in the world and in ourselves.  It's not lost to ages.  I think we're as content as we allow ourselves to be in the present.
WC: Was there one specific country or location from those times that influences you more than others? In other words, is the predominant influence from English, French, German or other traditions?

TA: Yes, the music of Spain and Italy are favored above all others.  Cantigas and Estampies.
 WC:  What exactly is the meaning of the title “Aria of Vernal Tombs”?

TA: I'd like to leave that up to the imagination of the listener.
WC: I’m also interested in the meanings behind the songs “Anlace and Heart” and “Wilweorthunga”. The latter word sounds like Old Saxon.

TA: Wilweorthunga is an old practice of fountain or well-worship where the practitioner adorns trees around a well or spring with ribbons or cloth.  An anlace is just a dagger.  Regarding the meaning behind these songs, again, they serve the imagination of a listener.

WC:Were the harsh vocals always the first choice for Obsequiae? Could you see differing and experimenting with vocals more in the future?

TA: Yes, the harsh vocals were always the first choice.  Although recently Andrew and I have discussed approaching this music with him singing.  We have a lot of similar tastes in older bands like Warlord (US) or more modern ones like Solstice (UK) - which both have a stylistic lineage to the music of Obsequiae.  Andrew is a great singer and has a lot of experience and history singing in more “traditional” heavy metal bands.  Right now, the only bands he sings (clean)  in are Nechochwen and Brimstone Coven.  Obviously we don't want to change the trajectory of the band for our own amusement.  But it is something we're still considering exploring.  Perhaps with new Obsequiae material or as an entirely new project following similar themes.

WC: What metal artists have influenced the metal side of Obsequiae?

TA: The short answer is that there are simply too many to name.  I think specific albums have inspired this music more than a band's entire catalogue.  A lot of stuff I grew up listening to.  Early 90s Death/Doom (Ceremonium, Dissolving of Prodigy), early Greek and Swiss stuff (Samael, Alastis, Sadness, Rotting Christ, Varathron).  A lot of the early No Fashion, Wrong Again and Necropolis releases.  And then there are recordings that seem to always find their way into my playing: first two Amorphis records, Dark Tranquillity's “Skydancer” & “A Moonclad Reflection” EP, Eucharist “A Velvet Creation”, Fall of the Leafe “Evanescent, Everfading”, first two Ophthalamia records, Sacramentum “Far Away From the Sun”, Vinterland “Wings of Sorrow”, Dawn  “Nær sólen...”, Fatal Embrace “Shadowsoul's Garden”, on and on.  There are a lot of bands that sort of creeped into my head conceptually as far as unconventional songwriting or aesthetics like Nocturnus, Brocas Helm, Master's Hammer and Autopsy.

 WC:Are there any specific medieval composers you draw more inspiration from?

TA: There weren't really composers of medieval music as we would think of them today.  What was left to us are works that largely remain anonymous.  There were several noteworthy troubadours, minnesingers and trouvères who we know authored specific works as well as people like Hildegard of Bingen or even, much later, King Henry VIII.  But, as a whole, usually people gravitate toward a particular body, codice or school of works rather than one author who may or may not have written the music attributed to him/her today.

WC: Where was the beautiful cover photo of “Aria of Vernal Tombs” taken?

TA: The cover is a photochrom of Valle Crusis Abbey from the late 1800s.
 WC: Do you think that modern “connected” technology has destroyed the spirituality and contemplation which dominated medieval times or is there hope to recapture that spirit?

TA: It depends where you are in the world, of course.  Again, in my opinion, mysticism is something to be celebrated (not that it belongs solely to the middle ages).  But as far as “connected” technology, particularly social media, it's a  giant hall of mirrors.  Temporary digital graffiti.  It's not connecting us as a whole as much as it's leaving us complacent and distracted.  It comes down to all of us - if we choose to fall prey to that shadow of the world or if we choose to live in the one around us.  Which are you?  Someone who lives in the natural world?  Or someone who feels helplessly compelled to comment stupid shit on YouTube?

WC: If you could have dinner with any 3 people from history, who would they be?

TA: Sigurd F. Olson, Hildegard of Bingen and Carl Jung.

WC: What was the last CD/release you got just because you wanted to check it out?

TA:The new albums from Visigoth, Crypt Sermon and the two most recent Richard Skelton albums.

WC:Have you ever had a “Spinal Tap” moment in your musical career that you could share with us?

TA: Yeah, I've got a few that I'd love to not share!!!
WC: Any final words for new or old Obsequiae fans?

TA: Persevere.