Reviewed: August, 2018
Released: 2018, Relapse Records
Rating: 4.5 of 5
Reviewer: Peter Atkinson
German tech-deathsters Obscura freaked out more than a few people last fall when they cryptically hinted that “the end is near” on their Facebook page. Turns out “the end” merely meant the completion of the final chapter in the four-album cycle that began with 2009’s Cosmogenesis – and not the demise of the band, which has been dogged by lineup turmoil since the beginning.
Said final chapter is the band’s new fifth album Diluvium. Defined as “great oceanic flood,” it caps a storyline that kicked off, fittingly enough, with Cosmogenesis’ big bang theory-ish take on the dawn of existence. And though things started growing a bit overwrought as the concept progressed, capped by the 15-plus minute “Weltseele” that concluded 2016’s chapter Akróasis, Obscura finish with a flourish on Diluvium, which tightens things up from a compositional standpoint and yields a more forceful presentation.
With new lead guitarist Rafael Trujillo now ensconced in the lineup – having replaced Tom Geldschläger who’s brief stint included the recording of Akróasis – and the rhythm section of bassist Linus Klausenitzer and drummer Sebastian Lanser carrying over from that album, the band seem a genuine unit again. The songwriting duties are certainly more of a team effort, with everyone contributing – including Trujillo on six of the 11 tunes, one more than band leader/guitarist/frontman and lone original member Steffen Kummerer. And instead of belaboring the point as everyone has their say, there is a greater sense of balance here that results in a more structured and gratifying effort overall.
Oh, there’s still plenty of shred – Trujillo is a guitar hero in the making – and the band’s progressive abilities are as fluid and at times awe-inspiring as ever on Diluvium. But there’s also welcome meatiness, heft and some surprising melodic flair that give the songs the sort of staying power that at times has evaded Obscura. It’s technical metal that doesn’t flaunt its technicality, instead crafting it into something that is also remarkably easy to grasp – at least by tech-death standards.
The title track is a prime example, with its commanding growled chorus and super catchy, but very heavy hooklines working in tandem with the nimble, supple bass runs, scatter-gun drumming and guitar pyrotechnics that have come to typify Obscura’s sound, making something with equal parts depth and dazzle. “Mortification of the Vulgar Sun” even goes so far as hinting at Countdown To Extinction-era Megadeth with its mid-tempo chunkiness and acoustic flourishes – though Kummerer’s hoarse holler does limit its accessibility to a degree.
The opener “Clandestine Stars,” on the other hand, simply leaps for the throat and is as lean and mean as these guys get, ending with an emphatic death grunt after a raging 3:39. “Emergent Evolution” is equally as aggressive, but allows the band’s dexterity a little room to roam. Both employ vocoder effects for clean vocals on the choruses that sound almost computer-generated and give them a fittingly futuristic touch. But the band keep going back to that well as the album progresses and the tactic becomes rather rote – one of the few things that there really is to knock here.
The strings on “Ethereal Skies” are a nice touch – especially since ex-drummer Jonas Baumgartl performs the cello. And since they don’t return, it makes the song all the more special – a point sadly overlooked when it comes to the vocoder, though it’s still only a minor annoyance. In contrast to “Ethereal Skies,” umm, ethereality, the thunderous “The Conjuration” sounds genuinely evil, with its slashing, drop-tuned riffs and Kummerer’s guttural roar.
The finale, “An Epilogue to Infinity,” builds on that, beginning with a deliberate brood but ending with a blast as the band muscle up to bring it all home. It makes for a fitting “end” to this epic, ambitious journey Obscura have been on for pretty much the past decade – and for which only Kummerer has been aboard the whole way.