In the 90’s, death metal picked up the metal flag from the 80’s thrash movement and defined a genre that would be the basis of all what is considered to be extreme. Its earliest / finest era was led by American death metal, mainly with Floridan death metal acts such as Death, Morbid Angel, Deicide, Obituary, Atheist, Cynic, the New York Death Metal representative Cannibal Corpse and Brazilian metallers Sepultura, who actually recorded “Arise” in Florida, USA.
There’s no deny that death metal has been consistent ever since the 90’s, mainly driven by underground bands and new contributing genres such as Sweden’s melodic death metal, USA’s deathcore and the most technically challenging ‘tech death‘ genre that also flourished with its obvious representative, Necrophagist.
Obscura’s role in the resurrection of death metal
So where does Obscura come in all of this? Well in 2009, they released a groundbreaking album entitled “Cosmogenesis” that was praised by many as one of the most important records of the decade, a fresh breeze in today’s monotone death metal world. The German band is formed from two ex-Necrophagist members, one ex-Pestilence member and a new talent in the metal world under the name of Stephen Kummerer, guitarist / vocalist / main composer of the band.
Obscura’s music is in my opinion, the next key step in death metal after its peak with Death’s “The Sound of Perseverance” back in ’98. So what’s so special about them? It’s definitely that right dosage of technical death metal, creative song structures and overall uniqueness. All those elements are evident in songs like “Anticosmic Overload” and “Universe Momentum” from the Cosmogenesis album.
Obscura’s rhythm section is extreme to say the least: drummer Hannes Grossmann is amazingly skilled with influences ranging from major progressive metal drummers such as Neil Peart and Mike Portnoy to jazz fusion drummer Dennis Chambers. He’s known to deliver a variety of sick blast beats with remarkable cymbal work and a magnitude of odd drum patterns. Another huge factor in Obscura’s sound is the same key factor that gave Death’s “Individual Thought Patterns” back in ’93 a place amongst the most praised death metal albums of all time: insane fretless bass.
Aside from his technical impressive fast work, Jeroen Thesseling pulls off some really creative and unmatched basslines with songs like “Orbital Elements“, the only instrumental on the album. He draws major influences from Flamenco and Arabic music, evident from his use of microtonality, an essential part of his unique signature bass sound.
I also must mention the impressive guitar wizardry of both Steffen Kummerer and Christian Muenzner. Their sweeps and fast melodic riffing are always the foreground of the music, leading the giant wall of sound and some of their solos and two-way melodies have 80’s written all over them while others show fusion and neoclassical influences!
“Omnivium” released in March 2011
How about continuity? After 2 years, Obscura release another masterpiece entitled “Omnivium” to higher recognition and appraisal by reviewers and fans alike. “Omnivium” took the band to the next level in their unique sound, with experimental song parts, mind-boggling lyrical topics such as abysmal pansophy, vortexes, a homage to Euclid, etc and top-level musicianship.
Just check out “Celestial Spheres“, a highly interesting track from the album which Steffen commented on in his own track-by-track review of the album on LoudTrax.com (check full article here): “An almost new field for our band is the song ‘Celestial Spheres’ that is inspired by piano related composition of Aziza Mustafa Zadeh and shows another influence of our whole sound“. There are few death metal musicians who have the guts to say they’re inspired by jazz musicians such as Aziza Mustafa Zadeh, an Azerbaijani composer/singer/pianist. Another song to check out is “Septiagint“, their first released single from Omnivium which kicks off the album with acoustic intro and outstanding bass work.
The most dominant musical elements on the album are neoclassical along with a ‘cosmo‘ effect, mostly credited to their Cynic influences. Old school death metallers are also kindly treated with Morbid Angel-like slow heavy riffs that are more destructive than the 250 bpm fast ones. Again, as Steffen puts it in an interview with examiner.com (check full interview here), the band chooses melody over technicality: “we really try to combine technical ability with good songwriting, strong melody and build an atmosphere. We focus very heavily on making sure that our songs have a good sense of fluidity. That is much more important to us than belting out a riff at 250 bpm…support melodies; f*** technical!!“
So here you go, an overview of Obscura, the German band who’s currently representing the progressive death metal genre. There’s no denying that there will be more masterpieces to come; hopefully the band will keep expanding their sound with each album, growing in popularity and respect amongst their musician peers and fans alike.