Originally written by Erik Thomas
You’ve got to love the state of tech-death metal right now. You’ve got titans like Decrepit Birth, Gorod and Obscura pushing each other and outdoing each other with each release, and newcomers like Anomalous and Monumental Torment throwing their attention-getting efforts into the fray. Well, it’s very possible that with Omnivum, Germany’s Obscura has ended the contest.
Possibly absorbing some of the criticism that tech-death — and their last release Cosmogenesis — is lifeless and clinical, Obscura has taken their cosmic vortex of uber-technical yet melodic death metal and layered it with a warm, organic production and made the music much more inviting, memorable and brilliant. The solos are better; the riffs, while still a stuttering vortex of complexity, are more serpentine and labyrinthine in their delivery; there are some ethereal clean vocals; and the end result is sure to be this year’s standard for technical death metal. And of course, the musicianship — especially that of bassist Jeroen Paul Thesselin (Pestilence) — is through the fucking roof.
Ultimately, the comparison of a mind-bending mix of tech-era Pestilence, Cynic, Death and Necrophagist is still relevant, but with an utterly un-fuck-with-able mix of breathtaking intricacy and songwriting, Obscura has simply changed the game… again. Though Decrepit Birth is indeed amazing, their songs tend to be a wild cacophony of tech madness with a moment of brilliance and melody thrown in. On Omnivum though, the songs are a single, self-contained, awe-inspiring entity, chock full of “wow” moments from start to finish.
Even with typically longer-than-normal songs — the album’s lone short cut is slightly over four minutes while the rest are all between 6 and 8 — my attention was rapt for the album’s entirety. Omnivium is one of the rare albums that you listen to each note of each song from start to finish until the CD stops spinning — and then you hit play again. A rare feat, and even more so when you consider the typically ADD-filled nature of the genre.
Most will be familiar with the opener “Septuagint”, the first song released from the album, but needless to say it’s the perfect window to this album’s galaxy of sonic supernovas and glittering, mesmerizing metal, with its delicate opening refrain and weaving urgency. “Vortex Onmivium” follows suit with the album’s shortest (but no less brilliant) array of shredding and enough time changes to implode stars with. One of my favorite tracks, “Ocean Gateways” changes things up, both musically and vocally as the song has a slow menacing lurch akin to something from Morbid Angel’s Gateways, and Steffen Kummerer takes his vocals down a few octaves into some deeper, cavernous realms. It’s a nice change of pace for the album and the band. Despite being the album’s shortest cut, following track “Euclidean Elements” delivers the albums most ferocious cut, with a finger- and arm-crippling opening, for those that play air guitar and air drums.
It’s usually at about this point in a tech death metal album, where things start to sound a bit repetitive, but even though “Prismal Dawn” hints at reprising “Septuagint” with its delicate acoustic opening, the track takes a far more progressive tangent with robotic distant clean vocals (and some deep growls), and it careens into angular, calculated shreddage. It’s the track that ensures Obscura are pre-eminent risk takers and brilliant songwriters, not just mind-blowing musicians. Another later track, “Velocity”, initially ripples with a caustic shimmer and space/time-bending tangents, again showing Obscura’s unfathomable skill and their ability to make an album twist and turn with unpredictable, enthralling levels of scope and vision that simply isn’t of this earth. It’s like some distant alien civilization with musical technology far superior to ours that has infected four musicians from Germany. The album closes with the aptly named instrumental track “Transcendental Serenade” and the 8-minute “Aevum”, and even though you are 54 minutes in, everything feels as fresh, challenging and invigorating as the first bars of “Septuagint”.
I’m not usually one to gush over artwork and CD booklets, but Relapse and Orion Landau did an excellent job with Omnivium; I like how the cover is different than Cosmogenesis but is still similar, and the inlay booklet is amazing with a well-presented embossed sci-fi sheen to the pictures and artwork that fits the music perfectly.
It’s fitting that my review of Obscura’s new album should sit next to the re-issue of Death’s The Sound of Perseverance because the torch has truly been passed, my friends.
The bar has been shattered, people.