March has really been one hell of a month, hasn’t it? To think after Amon Amarth and Vintersorg we get to follow it all up with Obscura‘s Omnivium. If any record counts as the most-anticipated of the year, Obscura is probably getting pretty close to that level. Having released in 2009, what was really a hell of a surprise for most listeners (including people who’d purchased their previous record) in Cosmogenesis, these technical death metallers built on their Necrophagist cred (and sound) and on the legacy of the mighty Death with their technical, progressive death metal, complete with awesome fretless bass attack. So, while this isn’t really a record that can fall victim of the sophomore slump (being the band’s third record), it certainly is an album that could fall victim to overly heightened expectations. And, I must admit, this Angry Metal Guy certainly had heightened expectations.
Omnivium is actually not what I was expecting, however. In some ways this was a little disappointing, and in some ways this was very invigorating. Let me try to explain. Cosmogenesis was a front-loaded record, in my opinion, and it was excellent when it was riffy, fast and techy. But the record almost underplayed the technical aspects of the band because, realistically, compared to their genre-mates I think that Obscura is quite easily accessible. It’s like taking something that should take some effort to get into (see Ulcerate or Defiled) and turning it into something that could make Gibson’s shittiest list ever made. And reality has it that Obscura is about the hookiest tech death band out there. But Omnivium? Omnivium is different.
While there is definitely still that “The Anti-Cosmic Overload” style of attack, the band starts out showing that this record will be different from the acoustic strains of “Septuagint,” which while it does get heavy, is never quite so hooky. And Omnivium feels like a band that’s still sort of experimenting to some extent, drawing from the legacy of Death to even landing in Morbid Angel territory on “Ocean Gateways” and stealing the vocoder straight out of Cynic‘s playbook on “Prismal Dawn” and “Celestial Spheres.” Omnivium even ends up in Ulcerate or Necrophagist territory on the track “Velocity,” which is probably the most difficult to digest track on the recordâ€”and certainly different from anything on Cosmogenesis. This is not to say that the hookiness that existed on Cosmogenesis doesn’t exist here, it’s just more buried in technicality than before.
All of this is done with the technical expertise that few other bands have, even among technical death metal bands. Guitarist Christian Muenzner is a total beast, ripping out some solos on this thing that should make his fingers melt and that will make your brain boil, and if this guy is anything as consistent live as he is on tape he should be hailed as one of the best in the business, and, while I don’t have a list of who’s playing what, Steffen Kummerer isn’t a slouch either from the sounds of it. The other stand out musical element of this record is the bass of Jeroen Thesseling, which laces every track with impressive licks and a sound that I just can’t get over. I think the sound and approach of the fretless attack is one of the things that keeps drawing me back to Obscura. Check out the bass solo in “Celestial Spheres,” it’s fucking sublime. Hell, even the extreme vocals here have even improved in a lot of ways, though there is the use of vocoders and filters feels a tad silly at times, and there’s a of a lot more clean vocals than I was expecting. I enjoy that, but this might piss off a purist or two.
This is a dense record full of stuff that fans of technical death metal will love if they haven’t already decided that Obscura is too trendy (or derivative) to dig. I think the songwriting feels a little directionless at times (see the second half of “Velocity” and “A Transcendental Serenade,” for example), so it’s not perfect but this is a technically amazing record from one of death metal’s premier bands. I certainly look forward to hearing more from this band, and I certainly look forward to seeing where this record ranks on my end-of-the-year list, because it’s hard to imagine that something this epic and technically impressive wouldn’t end up there. Then again, predictions have a way of going awry. And 2011 certainly does seem to be turning into a banner year for metal, doesn’t it?