What’s in a name? For Obscurity, an awful lot. Two decades of hammering away in their Viking forges have produced an armory’s worth of albums, but none particularly sharp. Their Amon Amarth-worship has suffered steep decline since 2010’s Tenkterra, but eighth entry Streitmacht is girding itself for a long raid up the coast. In their promo material, the band asserts that progress does not necessarily demand changing styles. While this is true, Obscurity could still afford to mix things up. Their output plus Amon Amarth’s double-digit tally suggests that those Viking chord progressions might be growing a bit frayed. If the Germans intend to be the last with pagan blood, Streitmacht will have to grow by a giant’s foot.
I hoped some of Obscurity’s early blackened dalliances would make a reappearance, perhaps an intentional tilt into the space left by the now-defunct Riger, but opener “793” refused to oblige. Thick rhythms, triumphant drum beats, and Norn undercurrents hand the Amon Amarth torch off in stock fashion. Agalaz’s German language vocals add pure ferocity, eschewing a Johan Hegg impression for a mesh of Ingo Tauer’s (Riger) scathing blackness with the dragon breath of Equilibrium’s Robert Dahn. Past that, Streitmacht unleashes a horde of Amon Amarth B-sides, each more nondescript than the last. The heard-it-all-before melodies of “793” offer no peaks, solos or memorability, nor do follow-ups “Meine Vergeltung” and “Non Serviam.” In an army assembled to fight the gods, these tracks would be the rank-and-file, the faceless dead to be burned up by Surtur.
At first, A-side closer “Hinrichtung” does little to change the mood around the mead hall. Yet under its death metal simplicity, wouldn’t you know it, there’s some black in them there riffs. The throaty “hin-rich-tung” of the chorus anchors a tight tremolo affair with chunks of Varg in its stool. The returning Amon Amarth standards on the back-end now sound stronger, perhaps because they aren’t shouldering the weight of the entire song. It’s in these whispering shades that Obscurity finds improvement, if not success. The off-kilter “Todesengel” and chilly “Endzeit” improve Streitmacht’s standing overall, while “Ehre den Gefallenen” brings a beefy “Guardians of Asgaard” boot back to the fold. Obscurity never truly deviate from the playbook – at least, past the Sherlock-meets-DCU Theme oddities hidden in “Todesengel” – but my mental image is now closer to a Viking horde bearing down on me, rather than a LARPer shrugging at me from under a cardboard shield and Grandmother’s furs.
Of course, an album worth pillorying for its stubborn adherence to form must end on a predictable note. However, “Was uns bleibt” saved the best for last. It has that late-era Amon Amarth sheen, with melodic boots trampling all over the songwriting. Frontman Agalaz’s performance is roughly as unchanging as Streitmacht, but it makes up for the lack of diversity with a high heat. I wish I could say the same for the remainder of the album. For supposed Viking metal, the record has very little in the way of folk elements, a shame given how well the record’s diverse influences exceed expectations. Some flutes or violins or just a hint of Black Messiah pizzazz would spice up the otherwise straightforward quintet. New drummer Draugr has a few solid moments, but even his thumping beats come across as a spoke in the Amon Amarth wheel.
Another writer and I recently joked about bands capable of producing an A+ record, but only if you could pull the strongest cuts from a C+ career. Obscurity is just such a band. Even at their peak, they still sound as if their strings are being pulled by someone else. Under the right circumstances, imitation can be just what a band needs to find their niche. Obscurity lean too heavily on that mimicry, and aren’t very good at it to boot. Until they derive a sound truly their own, one that breaks free of constant comparison, Obscurity remain doomed to an ironically titular destiny playing music that fulfills neither their own needs nor that of the listener.
DR: 5 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Trollzorn Records
Websites: obscurity-online.de | facebook.com/obscuritybergischland
Releases Dates: EU: 2017.07.14 | UK: 2017.07.28 | US: 08.04.2017