Obscura – A Valediction (Album Review)

ObscuraA Valediction
Released: November 19, 2021

Line Up:

Steffen Kummerer // Vocals, Guitars
Christian Münzner // Guitars
Jeroen Paul Thesseling // Bass
David Diepold // Drums

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German technical death metal act Obscura have had a whirlwind, near 20 year career. Their second album, 2009’s Cosmogenesis, put them firmly on the map in the world of extreme metal with their highly complex playing and progressive tendencies, combined with the songwriting knack and human feel of the genre’s formative bands from the late 80s/early 90s, such as Death, Cynic and Pestilence

Despite continuing to release impressive music for the next decade-plus, Obscura and founder Steffen Kummerer never truly found a rock-solid lineup. Following the mass exodus of three quarters of the band in 2020, the frontman and guitarist recalled two extremely talented former members back into the fold from the Cosmogenesis period; fretless bass player Jeroen Paul Thesseling and guitarist extraordinaire Christian Münzner. The addition of new drummer David Diepold was the final piece of the puzzle, with the Austrian being one of the hottest-rising talents in the drumming world. 

Their upcoming sixth full length, A Valediction, sees Obscura turning to a new page in the career, with the previous four LPs all being thematically linked in both the lyrical and musical department. This, combined with the returning band members and a new label home on Nuclear Blast, has given the group a clean slate to work with across the board. 

Album opener ‘Forsaken’ features all the peaks, flourishes and complexity you’d expect from an Obscura song. A delicate acoustic introduction with rolling bass lines gives way to harmonised electric guitars and building drums, before the track bursts into life with blastbeats, breakneck riffs and sweep picking lead runs. The staggering guitar solo section in the middle features some seriously impressive playing, pulling out top-tier Allan Holdsworth-style fusion licks, neo-classical runs and whammy-bar histrionics.

While ‘Forsaken’ is classic Obscura, as to is the following tune ‘Solaris’ – featuring relentless pace and non-stop musicianship – its numbers three and four which sees the quartet taking some risks and entering new ground. Conjuring up some of their most accessible, to the point music to date, the immediately memorable title track delves deep into melodic death metal territory with its traditional, chorus-focused structure. 

The borderline power metal/80s hard rock of ‘When Stars Collide’, featuring clean vocals from Soilwork’s Bjorn Strid, is as an uptempo and happy (!) a song a tech-death act could release. Still technically superb playing across all instruments, it’s major-key, triumphant vibes combined with Strid’s massive voice in the chorus is a big change for Obscura, yet they bend the different style of music to fit into their mould, rather than the other way around. 

That’s not to say that they’ve lost their heavy edge; with the crushing mid-paced stomp of ‘Devoured Usurper’ channeling some serious early 90s Flordia death metal scene-vibes. The instrumental workout ‘Orbital Elements II’, a sequel to it’s vocal-less brethren from  Cosmogenesis, gives everyone time to shine with their own solo spot, with the back end giving off golden-era Megadeth vibes with it’s harmonised riffing and shredding.  Later album track ‘In Adversity’ is another melodic-death metal leaning jaunt, with its catchy and technical riff work fusing together, while the stripped back chorus is led by a highly melodic tapping section.

With uber-producer Fredrik Nordstrom manning the board – who’s previous credits range from Architects, Dimmu Borgir and At The Gates – the audio quality is stunning. The guitars are as crystal clear as they are biting, while the drums are mixed perfectly, sounding huge and natural. The fretless bass of the retuning Thesseling has always been one of Obscura’s signature calling cards, with the instrument giving a more fluid and rubbery sound than the traditional bass guitar. However, on A Valediction it seems to be sat further back in the mix than usual – whether this was a preplanned decision or a call that was made during the album’s final touches, it’s more subdued presence is noticeable.

Making memorable, yet uncompromisingly complex music is an extremely tough challenge — regardless of the genre the artist is working within. Even in the world of metal, when the notes are flyin’ and the drums start reaching light speed, a lot of people tune out and lose interest. Obscura have always been an act whose strengths lie in creating music that is memorable due to its sheer technical impressiveness, but with A Valediction the band’s attempt to dial this back a notch in favour of writing more straightforward material is a success. Will this give them mainstream popularity? Unlikely. Obscura’s excellent sixth album has all the potential to grab metal fans that maybe dismissed them as only being able to compose mindless musical masturbation. Combined with being in cahoots with the biggest heavy music label in the game, A Valediction has all the potential to open bigger and better doors for the band.

ObscuraA Valediction tracklisting:

1. Forsaken
2. Solaris
3. A Valediction
4. In Unity
5. Devoured Usurper
6. The Beyond
7. Orbital Elements II
8. The Neuromancer
9. In Adversity
10. Heritage

Rating: 8/10
A Valediction is out this Friday on Nuclear Blast. Pre-order here.
Review By Andrew Kapper. Twitter: @andrew_kapper

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