Obscura are a technical death metal band from Munich, led by guitarist Steffen Kummerer. Almost 20 other musicians have passed through the ranks since the group was formed in 2002. The longest-lasting incarnation featured guitarist Christian Münzner and drummer Hannes Grossmann; that version produced the albums Cosmogenesis and Omnivium. In 2014, though, both Münzner and Grossman left; the current version of the band features Rafael Trujillo on guitar, Linus Klausenitzer (a member since 2011) on bass, and Sebastian Lanser on drums.
As a consequence of the split, Obscura didn’t make an album between Omnivium, in 2011, and Akróasis, in 2016. That album, which featured guitarist Tom Geldschläger, really felt like Kummerer had spent five years itching to put it out. It was bursting with ideas from all across the metal spectrum, from the opening track, “Sermon of the Seven Suns,” which had a vocal melody Trivium might envy, to the closing “Weltseele,” an Opeth-y 15-minute epic that brought in a string section and actually used it well.
Arriving only two years later, Diluvium (get it from Amazon) might seem at first like a less ambitious record than its predecessor; the core elements of Obscura‘s sound are present, and the strings come back on “Ethereal Skies,” but there are no double-digit track lengths this time out. And if that were the case, if they were just playing to their strengths, that would be fine. But in fact, they’re trying new ideas again, and a lot of them are good ones.
Obscura take a lot from Cynic—most notably, their use of electronically altered vocals to create a kind of blissed-out-android sound. The robotic voice shows up on numerous tracks, crooning as Kummerer barks and roars, and it’s a perfect match for the guitar solos, which are often so smooth as to approach modern fusion territory.
The music moves through a variety of moods as Diluvium progresses. The opening two tracks, “Clandestine Stars” and “Emergent Evolution,” are pounding Trivium-meets-Necrophagist riff-fests with almost-catchy choruses. “Mortification of the Vulgar Sun,” by contrast, begins with martial, assaultive drumming and long guitar tones; that gives way to a melancholy solo guitar melody of the type Metallica used to open albums with, and when the track proper begins, it rumbles and churns like a train chugging through a mudslide.
On “Ekpyrosis,” the band puts a lot of effort into sounding like real human beings playing music together in a room. The guitar solo, which arrives at about the three-minute mark, is preceded by some very carefully deployed sounds of fingers sliding against strings, and it’s the bluesiest solo on the whole record, almost getting into David Gilmour territory. As it begins, Lanser’s drums are allowed to sound like a real kit rather than a series of programmed explosions, and the rhythm even swings a little bit.
The next track, “The Seventh Aeon,” is the most Opeth-y thing Obscura has ever recorded. The riff could have come straight off of that band’s Ghost Reveries album, and Kummerer even drops his voice into a lower register, trying to sound like Mikael Åkerfeldt. The main thing that sets the track apart, and marks it as Obscura‘s work, is Klausenitzer’s deep, liquid fretless bass sound, which is a highlight whenever it’s allowed to bubble to the top of the mix.
“The Conjuration” isn’t quite as Opeth-esque as its predecessor, but it’s from the same part of the forest. It also might be the single heaviest track in the Obscura catalog, thundering along on a bed of tom rolls and deep, rumbling riffs. It’s got a galloping, hard rock energy, far from the immaculate, cosmic prog-metal that the band made their reputation with. It—dare I say it?—jams.
The CD bonus track, “A Last Farewell,” might be the most unexpected element of an album that’s already full of surprises. It’s a short (2:27) piece that sounds like it was composed and performed entirely by Klausenitzer, with three basses playing countermelodies and harmonizing with each other, and just a little bit of synth to hold things together. It could have come off an early ’70s Stanley Clarke album, and to hear it as the coda to a crushingly heavy death metal album is kind of mind-boggling.
Obscura have never made a bad record. Diluvium continues their streak. If you’re into technical/progressive death metal with jazz fusion leanings, and you’re not already a fan, you really need to get on board.