"Soulblight" saw it all coming together, a logical progression from the previous outing, "Witchcraft." As i have yet to find and hear their first album (Obtained Enslavement material is VERY hard to come by) i can't speak yet as to the evolution from that point. "Witchcraft" was an excellent album on its own, the only problem being a sort of disconnect between the black metal elements and the symphonic ones. It was an album slathered in baroque Renaissance ambience; the piano and keyboard arrangements were at times overwhelming. Such a division made the album more challenging than it maybe needed to be. On "Soulblight" the band took the time to rein in the orchestral flourishes and meld the music a little more subtly. All of the piano and keyboards were still present; now they were married closer to the guitar lines.
The whole thing is ridiculously complex but never in an alienating, progressive sort of way. All of the songs are longer explorations and the guitars lead the way throughout, all high end melodic skree and crusted over dustwinds of scathing white hot distortion. It's an earful, to be sure, although the rare moment of respite surfaces, like the gorgeous clean guitar lines in the title track or the simple barreling hypnothrash breakdown in the middle of "Nightbreed." Pest's vocals are at their absolute best; this is probably my favorite performance from him since Gorgoroth's "Under the Sign of Hell" (one of the greatest, most uncompromising black metal albums ever.) Here he sounds like he's choking on bile and dirt, coughing up blood and anger with each sickening ululation; combined with the "elegance" of the arrangements it creates a striking dichotomy that i have never really been able to wrap my head around.
I think that dichotomy is what i like best about Obtained Enslavement. Even though they were writing this really involved, layered music they were still raw as fuck, and never more so than on "Soulblight." The whole thing is an unrelenting juggernaut of dirty sound engineering. The drums are way forward in the mix so you hear ever double bass thunk (it saddens me a little that you don't really hear this sort of drum-centered production in metal anymore), the guitars are so hot you can hear them clipping out the tape, resulting in all sorts of small unwanted distortions, the bass is a goopy mess of rancid fuzz and sludge. Throw Pest's vocal agony over the top of everything and you've got a volatile mix of ear-shredding elements. There's really no polish here; this is seriously underground black metal.
After listening to "Soulblight" i get a much better picture of why some fans felt betrayed by the style of black metal that Obtained Enslavement went on to dabble with on their final album-almost all of the symphonic elements were abandoned, leaving a much leaner, more minimalist-leaning band bent on exploring the connections between lust, thrash metal and the roots of rock and roll. I love that final album, but it is very different. If you're looking for full sound immersion, though, "Soulblight" is a masterwork.