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Obscura’s 2009 release Cosmogenesis is wrongly categorized as a progressive death metal album. It seems as though most people I’ve heard that don’t like this album don’t consider it brutal or heavy enough, and I’d have to agree to fit the genre. However, this is NOT a bad thing, so long as you don’t put this album on expecting an onslaught of face-melting evil and harsh music. This album is great in its own right, but it is more of a “regular” progressive metal, somewhat in the style of an Opeth brand of heaviness. Melodies and catchy hooks abound in this very listenable release, and it may act as a decent bridge for metal newbies intimidated by other bands to check out these Germans and then explore other, heavier bands from there.
This album doesn’t get repetitive after mutltiple listens because the songs continually change and evolve, the band not forcing themselves to stay “heavy”, and in fact, relishing in some acoustic and genuinely calming breaks. The aesthetic of this album definitely is reminiscent of Cynic’s “Focus” album, and I do actually see where some people accuse this band of stealing some ideas, but it is done in their own style, with less of an emphasis on the jazzy nature and instead making sure to keep things heavier than their iconic Floridian counterparts. It’s unfair to accuse a band of plagiarizing someone’s style based on a similar-sounding riff as well, because how many heavy metal bands are guilty of playing the same chunky muted power chords as Metallica without them being called out? Just because a “death metal” band has an acoustic intro doesn’t mean they’re trying to sound like Cynic. As with many progressive metal bands such as Opeth, one of the downfalls is that they generally follow a heavy-soft-heavy-symphonic outro pattern in every song, which Obscura delightfully strays from, instead mixing up heavy and soft elements in ways that keep it fresh throughout the whole 50 minute album.
Guitarists Steffen Kummerer and Chrisitian Muenzner are technical without being obnoxiously flashy or scene-stealing with endless solos. Instead, they serve the music with notey riffs reminiscent of Necrophagist (which makes sense, since two of the four members used to be in said band) that generally work to keep the listener interested and bobbing his head. One gripe however is that the riffs often follow the same picking rhythm, which, despite the riffs being different notes, sometimes make it sound like the same riff played elsewhere on the guitar. Bassist Jeroen Paul Thesseling is in a word, strange. His style of bass playing always complements the music well, and it’s obvious that he’s an inspired musician from listening to the effortlessly tasteful licks he pulls out of that fretless bass. With the fretless bass as well, Thesseling is able to do strange microtones and eerily smooth slides on the guitar, lending an entrancing and unique sound to this band’s clinical aesthetic. Drummer Hannes Grossmann of Necrophagist fame performs very well indeed on this album, a drummer who knows when NOT to play as well as how to chill in the background and accent the themes of bass and guitar. However, he can shred as well, and his mastery of odd time signatures is apparent, especially in “Orbital Elements”, which continually shifts from 7/4, to 4/4, to 3/4 with a triplet feel throughout. As for the vocals, Steffen Kummerer also handles this area surprisingly well for a guitarist. He ranges from clean to aggro-growling, but most of the time it’s actually possible to understand what he’s saying. His voice isn’t overly dirty or meaty sounding either, a midrangey yell rather than the typical Cookie Monster style.
This album is definitely for musicians and those interested in listening to slightly death-tinged progressive metal, not the casual listener looking for something to crank out of his open car window to look cool. The production is considered too clean by some, but if you’re not expecting a crushing death metal album, then you’ll find a remarkably full-sounding recording with great tone on every instrument. It is quite well-balanced and very professional sounding, with nothing coming to attention to gripe about. I recommend this album for the more open-minded listeners out there who don’t care that an album isn’t heavy. It’s about the quality of the songwriting and musicianship anyway, and Obscura pulled it off on this very listenable album.