Fury in mourning. This is the emotional world in which Infant Island’s third album, Obsidian Wreath, wraps itself and its listener. It is an album about trudging through the end of the world: where climate catastrophe, the acceleration of capitalist extractive exploitation, the apathy towards social health which has emerged from the pandemic, and an endless stream of ongoing crises too numerable to be named, constantly haunt the edges of our vision, like a rot that sets in on the borders of being.
Obsidian Wreath — out January 12, 2024 via Secret Voice — is an album about the hopelessness of the slow violent decay of the world, about reckoning with a totalizing, impossible condition of reality which never stops confronting you with the question: how do we continue?
This is the question which Infant Island contends with throughout this record, a question they meet with fervor, with ferocity, with a determination and clarity marked – sustained, even – by grief. Lyrically, musically, the album shifts between light and darkness, using such tropes and their accompanying affects not in their cliché forms as opposing forces, but as mutually determined states of being which implicate and de-territorialize the Other. There must be something beautiful that can emerge from something terrible – this kind of impossible hope, an optimism that only emerges only from the condition of absolute pessimism, guides the album’s thematic considerations.
Perhaps this impossible faith has something to do with Obsidian Wreath being a pandemic record – written in 2020 but releasing in 2024, the record’s slow birth reflects a force of will which was required to survive a global event which threatened the music industry and the people in it at every level.
Each composition flows seamlessly into the next, making this fluidity of sound feel not like an oscillation between styles, but instead like the tracing of the contours of a scene, as though Infant Island are tracing their own artistic singularity through the historicity and creative multiplicity of American extreme metal. One cannot shake the feeling that this is music born from a desire for community – where we are accompanied through this world not only by our friends and family but by the ghosts, the historical presences we feel but remain forever out of sight, that we unwittingly follow every day. Produced again by Virginia legend Matthew Michel (Majority Rule, Nø Man); with guest spots from Harper Boyhtari and Logan Gaval (Greet Death) on “Kindling,” Andrew Schwartz (.gif from god) on “Another Cycle”; and with contributions from members of Undeath, King Yosef, For Your Health, Senza, Malevich, Mikau, and more – one can’t help but feel that sense of community. Infant Island invites you into a scene, welcoming despite all its aesthetic harshness.
In this way, Obsidian Wreath is the kind of heavy music that would feel most proper to hear shuddering through the red clay bricks of rural Virginia, its place of birth. It is music that carries in its melodic intensity the materiality and contradictions of its Southern home, so geographically near, yet so culturally and economically far from the centers of American hegemonic power. The album art, from Virginian folk artist Sarah Bachman, captures this social rootedness, contrasting the ethereality of an Appalachian night with the chaotic obliterating power of a wildfire. Silhouetted figures, between ash and shadow, are imprinted on the ground, absently present, ghosts which cling to the land and to each other. Bachman’s art expertly captures the political and emotional stakes of Infant Island’s songwriting: a refusal to let go of this world.
Obsidian Wreath is the culmination of Infant Island’s entire discography, synthesized into one LP and turned up to 11. As begun with 2020’s Beneath and Sepulcher, four years later it continues the band’s artistic direction to darker, harsher moods and sounds while also putting them in contrast with their most delicate and experimental Infant Island arrangements to date. It is a relentless, furious, and ever-shifting composition which coheres around expert composition and a single-minded interrogation of how we can possibly continue living in the state of this planet.
CULTURE (counter, pop, and otherwise) and the people who shape it.