Obscura – A Valediction Review

Obscura - A Valediction cover art

Obscura—tech death’s best known band—has a sound that has evolved with every release. Cosmogenesis, 2009’s breakout sophomore album, was a tight, techy affair with razor riffing. Despite major lineup changes between them, 2011’s Omnivium and 2016’s Akróasis were both far more progressive records. These albums leaned into longer, slower, more dissonant songs that lost the immediacy and hooks of their predecessor. That’s why I was so pleased with 2018’s Diluvium, which found the band once again artfully balancing on the fine line between tech and prog. In my review of Diluvium, I argued that the core of the band’s sound had become a super-tech melodeath band. And, as it turns out, my analysis was right on the money. Despite a (second) mass exodus that led to guitarist Christian Münzner and bassist JP Thesseling rejoining the band, A Valediction doesn’t present a more abstract and progressive Obscura. In fact, it’s the opposite.

A Valediction doubles down on Diluvium’s directness by attaching itself firmly to the Gothenburg sound embodied by At the Gates’ Slaughter of the Soul. From the opening track “Forsaken,” through to the penultimate “In Adversity,” these songs are littered with the Björriffs that have been so readily abused by the metal scene at large. For Obscura, this dedication to the Björriff results in the most direct, headbangingest Obscura record to date. Tracks like “The Neuromancer” and “A Valediction” are fist-pumpers that are going to be scorching when played live, and the album radiates a familiar energy. However, to say that A Valediction is just Obscura playing At the Gates riffs would be deeply misleading. Musicians of this class are able to write and play riffs that might feel tired if anyone else did it (compare the embedded video “When Stars Collide” with “Slaughter of the Soul”) and make them explosive. Obscura is Mozart to At the Gates’ Salieri.

What makes A Valediction brilliant, rather than derivative, is the way that the band masters and unsettles a long-used mold. With musicians like Thesseling, Münzner, and newly added drummer David Diepold (Amon Din, Cognizance), the players easily invert the template, making it more technically interesting while toying with the tropes of the form. This is most obvious in the use of doubled up arpeggios where normally there would be simple leads (“Solaris”), neoclassical bridges (“The Beyond”),1 or replacing simple harmonies with modulating phrases that turn the classic Maiden sound on its head (“The Neuromancer”). And though the band hasn’t totally left other parts of their death metal heritage behind (e.g., “Heritage,” or “Devoured Usurper,” which reeks of classic Morbid Angel), the super techy bridges give way to the touchstone of that Gothenburg sound (“In Unity”).

Obscura in 2021

It is no coincidence that Obscura elected Fredrik Nordström to produce A Valediction, and he delivered. As the man who produced Slaughter of the Soul, Nordström was the perfect choice. The album has a similar vibe to its source material that I think is most obvious in the fact that Kummerer’s screams really sound like a young Tomas Lindberg. But more importantly, Nordström’s mix and master breathes so much better than its predecessors, sporting a pretty airy DR9 master. He deftly handles the band’s busy sound, diversity, and dedication to Cynic-inspired vocoder cleans. The one complaint I have is that between the busy writing, multi-guitar tracking, and the way the bass is produced, the rhythm section can fall back in the mix. This ends up hiding Diepold’s superb feel on the drums and I just love really prominent fretless.

I knew immediately that A Valediction was good but its greatness took time to hear. By the time I made it to the deep listening stage of my review, I realized just how many layers had gone into making each song as good as it is. I love it, but I can see this album alienating the Omnivium and Alkaloid fans in Obscura’s fan base. If Diluvium walked the line between the tech and prog, A Valediction can largely be seen as leaving the band’s most progressive tendencies behind them. This album will undoubtedly supercharge Obscura’s career, because it is absolutely fire. But to achieve the energy that makes for believable videos with sports cars, you have to be willing to throw some of your more abstract artistic leanings overboard. And A Valediction does both of these things to great effect.

Rating: Great!
DR: 9 | Format Reviewed: V0 mp3
Label: Nuclear Blast
Websites: obscura.bandcamp.com | facebook.com/RealmofObscura
Releases Worldwide:
November 19th, 2021

Show 1 footnote

  1. That the guys in At the Gates could simply not perform.
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