OBSCURA “A Valediction”
Going through OBSCURA's history you definitely begin to notice something regarding their style. Sure, when first coming out the stylistic similarities to NECROPHAGIST were there - like much of the progressive death metal scene at the time - and having a few former members of that band come and go through the ranks hasn't helped that comparison fall away. What has helped more than anything is the band's ability to write tunes that actually come across as mature, properly-thought-out songs rather than just intense drum fills and guitar noodling for the sake of it. This new record is no exception, and to take it a step further it may be the most musically mature outing of the entire catalogue.
By this point it's no secret that the big news in the OBSCURA camp has been the lineup changes, with the entire band's lineup exiting once again and leaving mastermind Steffen Kummerer to figure out the band's next moves. The big shock came as the "new" lineup was unveiled revealing two former members returning to the fold, that being bassist Jeroen Paul Thesseling and guitarist Christian Münzner from the classic "Omnivium" and "Cosmogenesis" lineup. These two are arguably some of the greatest prog-death musicians on the planet, having blazed all over classic records from PESTILENCE and NECROPHAGIST, respectively. Christian is a master of the fretboard, with an incredible sense of melody to his soloing that puts him a cut above the tech-death crowd, never content to just sweep like a janitor throughout the album's duration. As for JP, with the only exception being Steve DiGiorgio and Sean Malone, this dude practically wrote the freakin' book on fretless bass in metal! His phrasing takes individual riffs and chords and forces you as the listener to press your ear to the speaker and hear just how much texture he's adding to these cuts. It happens in too many places to pick out favorite excerpts; you just need to put this record on and actively listen for those little fretless burps that come out of nowhere and hook you in.
Amidst the news of these two returning to the fold there came the announcement of the drummer, and that name is what truly made this reviewer giggle with glee at what this record would hold. David Diepold isn't exactly a household name just yet, but those who know, we <i>know!</i> This guy has such a mastery of tech-death drumming that you can easily behold on his youtube playthrough videos, and it just feels like he is finally in a band that makes total and complete use of his talents. He can slow it down for the headbangers on "Devoured Usurper," he can give us skank-beat thrash and melodeath like on "The Beyond" and the album's title track, but at the slightest flick of a wrist you'll get a quick double-bass pattern floor-tom vamp, or splash-heavy fill that holds your attention just as much if not more than those fretless bass flourishes mentioned earlier. His blasting is so damn tight and precise that it literally should serve as the textbook example of how it is meant to be done. This guy is the next big name in death metal drumming and I'm stoked that he will finally be heard by the masses on this record.
As for the songs, Steffan has really outdone himself on this record. Up to this point I felt as though he had truly peaked with “Akroasis” creating something brutally beautiful for lack of a better description, but here he is making this record something special even by that album's standard he set. Sure he's not necessarily the only one writing here, but this is definitely his band and he's always been the creative force behind the music. You have these blazing blast-fest with speed-picked ferocity, only to stop on a dime and head into thrashy single-note melodeath, but then here comes a refreshing solo section with a chord progression that feels like a weight is being lifted off the listener's shoulders while Jeroen fills the gaps and Christian flutters and noodles. All this while Steffan is performing some incredible vocal acrobatics for a death metal vocalist, much less one who is also playing guitar behind the growls and screams. That's one thing he never gets enough credit for...while many death metal vocalists find one tone or sound they excel at and get instantly recognized for, Steffan has always pushed where his voice needs to be for the overall vibe of the song and the album it's appearing on as a whole, whether he's doing the low, semi-gutteral grunts and growls, the Lindberg-esque squawks, or blackened shrieks and screams. Better to be a jack of many trades as a vocalist, for sure.
I'm here on listen number 5, and as much as I love "Akroasis," I think I am finally able to say that this is an even better record. The band has made an album-of-the-year contender for sure.