Obscura
Omnivium

The human brain excels at patterns. It does this all day long, interpreting and rendering an endless flood of sensory signals into a cohesive and constant presentation of reality. A large part of this process involves prediction, based on past experience and feedback, so that we have a natural sense of the next step in the pattern, or what we’re about to perceive next. Throw in something unexpected, and we hopefully can react accordingly. Throw in something that doesn’t make any sense with previous patterns, feedback or predictions, and we eventually realize that it’s part of a dream, or else something has gone really wrong.

If this sounds like an odd intro for the new opus by German tech-death wizards Obscura, it’s really not. That specific process of prediction, surprise and the brain’s constant need to synthesize patterns is a good analog to what happens when we throw on a tech-death release. Our brains and ears are frequently lost and wowed at first, under assault by virtuoso musicianship and thunderous brutality. Sometimes the experience stops there, especially if the band isn’t actually writing songs, but just noodling out incomprehensible scraps. However, with the good bands, and over the course of a number of repeated, focused listens, we can chunk all of that chaos into a enjoyable experience that seems as cogent and fluid as much simpler, more accessible strains of metal. And that’s where the joy comes in.

That pretty much describes my experience with Omnivium so far. It’s overall more ostentatious, complex, and well, obscure, than Obscura‘s previous release, Cosmogenesis. Yet spend enough time with Omnivium, and you can almost feel your synapses inscribing new, recognizable patterns in your neural pathways.

Opener “Septuagint” kicks this process off immediately. It fools you with a graceful, soaring intro (shades of classic Metallica), but then it hurtles forward like a comet, picking up and absorbing jagged classical melodies as it goes. It’s very easy to listen to now, but I remember having to replay the segment between 1:30 – 2:00 a few times to make sense of the structure. And that’s just one passage – the song morphs through plenty of unexpected moments, making feedback and prediction all but useless. Yet each segment – from the choppy thrash between 2:30 and 3:05, the burbling bass solo that follows, or the dissonant riffing from 3:55 to 4:15 – is sensible and listenable on its own, even if the entire song defies instant memorization. Noobs need not apply, but as for the rest of us, strap in and enjoy the ride.

Later tracks like the staccato freak-out “Vortex Omnivium,” the sinuous mathematical attack of “Euclidean Elements,” and “Celestial Spheres,” with its knotty, coiled guitar loops, all follow a similar path. They’re all frenetic, ornate and surprisingly fluid, yet contain just enough groove so that the whole experience doesn’t become too precious. They’re also well-balanced and mixed, each instrument getting plenty of chances to strut its stuff – particularly the plunky, playful basslines which are easily traced back to Cynic’s classic Focus. You’ll also recognize a huge Cynic influence in the clean, ethereal vocals, which are far more prominent than they were on Cosmogenesis. That’s not to say that Obscura has gone softer overall – they’re just another texture on an album filled with them, and a fine counterpoint to the band’s dual rasps and gurgles.

And then there are the surprises, tracks which aren’t so much accomplished progressions of Obscura’s sound as they’re just bizarre branches on their evolutionary tree. “Ocean Gateways” starts as a slow, rumbling death metal monstrosity, but then it sprouts all kinds of dissonant tentacles and melodies halfway through. It’s like some prehistoric thing-that-should-not-be clambering up onto land for the first time, and it’s a great break from its speedier counterparts.

Later on the album, Obscura puts out one of their most bizarre moments to date with “Velocity,” an aggressively dissonant track that sounds like it was ghost-written by Ihsahn. The first half sounds like it could have come directly off of Emperor‘s swan-song Prometheus – all sinewy, crawling dread, scraping rasps, soothing space-cries and distorted classical madness. But that’s all fairly sedate compared to the astounding midsection, which starts off with a ceaseless flutter of neoclassical phantasmagoria, then devolves into what sounds like an alien computer virus attacking a space station. It’s probably my favorite track on the album because of how unexpected it is, and given that Omnivium would make most untutored listeners throw their hands up in confusion, that’s saying something.

So if you enjoyed Cosmogenesis, get ready for an adventurous new progression of Obscura’s sound. I still haven’t quite reached the point where these songs flow as effortlessly as that collection – and perhaps, with the increased complexity here, that may not be possible. Still, there’s plenty of pattern-recognition exercise to be found here. Twenty-odd listens in, and I can still feel my synapses creating new sparks.

[Visit the band's website]
Written by Jordan Itkowitz
March 21st, 2011

Comments

  1. Commented by: Stiffy

    Damn dude. Great review.


  2. Commented by: drowningincorn

    Yeah, I agree, that was a fantastically written review. It made me check out a song, even though I’ve never really enjoyed the band before. Immediately I’m noticing the recording is much less clicky and annoying than on their last release. Actually, I seem to be really liking this…


  3. Commented by: Erik Thomas

    bold move by the band – but this is about as polished and clean but brilliant as tech dm gets and with the added clean elements- it shows that the likes of Decrepit Birth and Gorod could still add something to their game. great review Jordan


  4. Commented by: Scott Alisoglu

    Excellent review and spot on. There will be no better tech death album than this one in 2011. I pre ordered the double vinyl version.


  5. Commented by: Clauricaune

    I agree on all points. I never expected these guys to come up with something this fucking good.


  6. Commented by: gabaghoul

    Thanks all, enjoyed working on this one.

    Much as I enjoy the new Decrepit Birth from a sonic perspective, I think they still have a ways to go before they can write songs that don’t just stutter and lurch from one cool segments to the next.

    I also think Gorod lost a bit with Process of a New Decline. By comparison, Leading Vision was the perfect blend of groove and virtuosity. That album and Anata’s Under a Stone are still my gold standards for enjoyable tech-death.


  7. Commented by: shaden

    boring cd ,boring band.saw them live the faceless,cannibal corpse,we were all falling alseep.pass on this one.


  8. Commented by: emperorjvl

    Don’t these clean vox sound like the guy from Ghost?

    Awesome album.


  9. Commented by: Deftoner

    …Dude, after the first two lines knew it was a ‘Gaba’ review, absolute wordsmith – not a fan of tech-death but will check it


  10. Commented by: Cynicgods

    Very clean and Focused (sowwy, bad pun) tech death. I’m loving it. Great review, Lego Man! :P


  11. Commented by: faust666

    That’s a fuckin well written review Jordan!


  12. Commented by: Gibbo

    Killer review. This album should be renamed “Orgasm”! I have not been blown away by an album as much as I have by this one for quite sometime. It’s like Opeth on methamphetamine driving a gazillion miles an hour down the pacific motorway head on into Surfers Paradise – Cheers!


  13. Commented by: Blackwater Park

    Godly album.


  14. Commented by: Storm King

    At the moment, it isn’t a question of if this will be my CD of the Year, it’s a question of who is coming in second. Absolutely brilliant tech death, blows away the still amazing Cosmogenesis by miles. Simply killer.


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