Thursday, June 9, 2011

Expect to be sucked into the undertow by Obscura's Omnivium

A technical death metal band is a unique specimen. There are oceans of musicians capable of shredding your guts out, but far fewer who can lay down mind bending pyrotechnics while also crafting a creative, compelling, and captivating product.

When I reviewed Cosmogenesis, the second album from German tech death lords Obscura in 2009, I was less than impressed. Admittedly, I'm not huge on the genre, but I saw it as little more than technical spammery with much to be desired in heart and soul.

I advised the band to take its songwriting as seriously as it did its instrumentation.

Lo and behold, it seems they listened.

The band's new album isn't a success because it lacks for highly technical guitar and drum parts - trust me, there's still plenty of those. Rather, Omnivium shines due to its sense of variety.

Think of it this way: Cosmogenesis is a large slab of meat, naked, with nothing fancy added to it. On Omnivium, the band takes that piece of meat and blends an array of seasonings, spices, and herbs to the mix until it's richly textured and gives off a much a stronger zest.

Acoustic sections, clean vocals, and cleverly arranged melodic breakdowns - these were present in Cosmogenesis, I won't deny. But this time Obscura is able to utilize these tools in a way they weren't able to before.

Rather than focusing on slam and bang, there is an emphasis on trying to change things up so that each song has its own distinct flavor.

Take the opener, Septuagint, for example. It begins with a relaxing, gentle acoustic passage which leads into a neoclassical metal buildup that draws strong parallels to Metallica's "Battery," before charging headlong into an inferno of extreme metal. Not a very original way to open an album, but the riffs are well written. Listening to that acoustic passage is like crack.

This leads into Vortex Omnivium, an all out feast of technical death mastery, which should appeal strongly to fans of Cosmogenesis. After that you get Ocean Gateways, an all out oppressively dark and brutal slab of death metal decked out with continual double bass and bestial vocals that sound as though they could have been pulled from a seance gone horribly wrong.

As always, guitarists Steffen Kummerer and Christian Muenzner, along with the fretless wonder, bassist Jeroen Paul Thesseling, put on a clinic. And don't even me started on drummer Hannes Grossmann.

His mastery of speed, timing, and technicality is such that it is rarely seen even in other tech death bands.It brings to mind the way Mike Sus of Possessed used to sweat it out while playing the Seven Churches album on tour.

Kummerer, who also handles vocals, does a commendable job, though vocal quality isn't the focal point in a work like Omnivium. Kummerer's words drift like whitecaps over an ocean of interlocking riffs and rhythms, sometimes turbulent and hectic, other times slow and grinding, and occasionally peaceful and serene.

And, like last time, the production is still top notch. The lyrics are similar in tone to those of the last album, with an emphasis on a journey through the cosmos.

Cosmogenesis is a well respected album, to be sure, and it's a great work for fans of highly technical death. But Omnivium is much more likely to resonate among metal fans of any background, which should hopefully lead to greater exposure for this band who prove they can shred and write.

Score: 85/100

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