Obscura – A Valediction
When it comes to tech-death, Obscura is undoubtedly one of the biggest names out there, and I always thought it a big gap in my metal culture that I never sat through one of their albums. Although I’ve heard songs from them in the past and was well aware of their proficiency as musicians, I can’t really form an opinion on a band without hearing at least one album from them in full, so with “A Valediction”, I needed to take the plunge. Following a quadrology of albums that, to my knowledge, were related in concept (“Cosmogenesis” – “Omnivium” – “Akroasis” – “Diluvium”), this is the first album in years to break away from that stream of cosmic tech-death and go towards… well, some other sci-fi tech-death to be honest.
This is undoubtedly one of the most polished, clear and modern sounding albums I’ve heard this year, even in the realm of tech-death, and thus, it carries a bit of a synthetic, machinery-like feel. But it does not get to the point where it would lose the energy. It’s not a computer as much as it is a battle robot equipped with machine-guns, lasers and grenades, a total nerd-fest for the tech maniac but also engaging enough to keep the average metal listener interested. As the first single, ‘Solaris’, created the expectation, the album is based almost entirely on ridiculously fast paced blasting, double kicks, noodly yet groovy riffs and an overall high-octane energy that hardly ever ceases. More than anything, what impresses me about this band is the straight continuity of the sound throughout an entire song. Apart from a few exceptions, almost all tracks on this album start off in hyperspeed, move forward in hyperspeed and end in hyperspeed without a moment to breathe. This does not mean though, that they are monotonous, because as the pace is maintained, the actual content of the music (riffs, melodies, vocals) changes enough to give some creative value to the aggression.
Obscura – Solaris ( Click here if the video does not play )
The riffs are usually matched in pace with the kicks on the drums, creating a superb effect of the entire band flowing in unison. The bass has the typical tech-death fretless sound we’ve gotten to know from this band as well as the likes of Beyond Creation, First Fragment, and other relevant names in the genre. Throughout most of the songs, the most breather we’re gonna get are a few breaks in double kick on the drums, making room for a slightly thrashy high-speed kick-snare pattern that still maintains the same pace but reduces the brutality of the sound. And the vocals… well they’re good but not great. We have high pitched screaming going almost all the way through, low growls only permeating through on a few occasions and while I love the sound of it, I feel it gets a bit too one-sided when hearing it on-going for 50 minutes. But there’s some relief to that.
Obscura – A Valediction ( Click here if the video does not play )
While the above description sure sounds enticing, keeping it that way for the entire album would sure get monotonous, and about 3 songs in, I was starting to worry that this might be the case. But as it turns out, the German virtuosos had a few aces up their sleeve that they were keeping in store for later. The `highlight` songs, as I like to call them, are certainly ‘Devoured Usurper’ which slows down to a brain-manageable pace and drops some particularly slamming riffs with infectious headbang patterns, and the instrumental ‘Orbitals II’. This one really chops apart the rhythm, going full progressive. Not to say that the other songs had no progressive tendencies, but they were rather subtle and didn’t distract from the aggression. This one though, actually reminded me of the choppy riff styles that I’ve heard on the latest Haken albums “Vector” and “Virus”, which is something I totally did not expect. Keeping a somber, ominous and sci-fi atmosphere, they allowed themselves to get playful with this one and it sure put a smile on my face while still fitting in context with the rest of the record.
Other special moments I have to mention are the brief use of clean vocals in ‘When Stars Collide’, the clean guitar intro to the opening track, ‘Forsaken’, and the return of clean guitars in the closing track, ‘Heritage’, which once again delves more into progressive realms. One more highlight though, must be the tone of the lead guitar in ‘In Adversity’ which I felt gave more of a melodic death metal tone to the song and especially during the solo, had a distinct Intervals – “In Time” kind of tapping tone. Once again, the inner prog nerd was satisfied, with a comparison that I totally would not have expected to make on an Obscura album. This, of course, brings me to talk about the solos on the album, which, apart from this one, are hyperspeed shredding. Again, the match between kicks and guitar pace is maintained which gives that beautiful feeling of the whole band going in unison, and sometimes to boost that effect even further, we get harmonized double leads on the guitars, leaving only the bass to lay down the groundwork. There are also some slowed down epic melodies, most notably in the intro to ‘Forsaken’ that show an emotive side to the solos as well.
Obscura – Devoured Usurper ( Click Here if the video does not play )
Despite the diversity and nerd elements that they were able to squeeze in there, I feel that, as a whole, this album still gets too synthetic and mechanized. It doesn’t lack the enjoyability, but it is limited in that regard by a very methodical approach to writing and performing. Virtuosity and performance outshines soul on this one, and while that is not a serious problem, it is the main aspect where “A Valediction” loses points. But we’re talking about a technical death metal record here so don’t dwell on that too much. Spin the album and see for yourself whether it’s worth it. For me it surely was.
- Forsaken (07:16)
- Solaris (03:41)
- A Valediction (03:27)
- When Stars Collide (05:08)
- In Unity (04:48)
- Devoured Usurper (05:30)
- The Beyond (03:49)
- Orbital Elements II (04:01)
- The Neuromancer (04:41)
- In Adversity (04:09)
- Heritage (05:02)