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Technical death metal can be broadly classified into two types; one, where the “death” dominates while the other being where the jazz influences govern the sound and the technical aspects override song construction. Number of bands playing the former is definitely much more. This band contributes to the latter category, and one couldn’t have imagined or asked for a better auxiliary.
This is the German outfit’s first full length entitled “Retribution”, and I can assure you that these young shoulders definitely have a wise head. Very rarely we see such maturity and petulance. This sensational achievement comprises 10 songs and a cover of Death’s “Lack of Comprehension”, amounting to about 45 minutes of music. They take Death’s style of complex transitional passages & melodic guitar work, add Cynic’s professionalism & jazz influences, give it its fair share of Cryprtopsy’s brutality, and create a masterpiece in the genre.
Despite entering the scene at a time when experimentations in music has been already been pushed beyond the limit, this band manages to make a mark. Unlike the Gorguts album the band named itself after; the vocals don’t ruin the music.
The bass guitars don’t blindly obey the guitars, which is of course something all of us always prefer but rarely get. Guitar work, as I mentioned, is melodic and memorable. The drumming snakes and whirls around as much as the guitars and bass do. A lot of stop/start double kick action and other complex stuff can be heard while the randomly shat out monotonous blast beat is avoided to a large extent. It is diversified and the kind that helps the album's re-playability and longevity.
Here we have the debut album by a young German band specialising in death metal of the somewhat technical and progressive variety. And I would emphasise "somewhat", as one conspicuous characteristic here is the balance they find between the straightforward and the unexpected, between memorable riffing and more complex transitional passages. Don't be fooled by the band name: this isn't the dissonant, experimental kind of death metal you find on the eponymous Gorguts album. It owes more to mid-period Death and "Testimony of the Ancients"-era Pestilence, injected with the speed and brutality of perhaps Morbid Angel, for want of a better comparison. The vocals are raspy and clear rather than deep and muffled; one is reminded more of Jeff Walker than Glen Benton.
The band waste no time in getting down to business: the opener, "Humankind", pounces on the listener with a combination of intense blastbeats and high-register, rather melodic guitar work. A nice trick they employ here, and once or twice on the rest of the album, is starting a blasting section and increasing the tempo in steps, creating an impressive accumulation of intensity. But that's only one of the "tricks" here; there's simply an abundance of original melodic ideas, powerful rhythmic riffing and non-generic (but clear and memorable) song structures throughout the album. Two songs particularly stand out: the album's "mini-epics", both around six minutes. The first of these, "None Shall Be Spared", is a more mid-tempo affair than most of what has preceded it, allowing the music to develop naturally and take its time building up. Once it does, we are offered a chorus (of sorts) with a melody that I just can't get out of my head. Seriously, it's been a long time since I heard something so memorable in a death metal song without a descent into the formulaic kitsch of the melo-death genre.
The second, "Hymn to a Nocturnal Visitor" already starts in an unusual manner, with a slightly blurred clean guitar intro, and goes through a number of riffs and sections before reaching something entirely unexpected: a cello solo. There's a gentle, haunting accompaniment in broken chords from the clean guitar, and we get an extended melody from the cello, played by none other than the band's drummer. What the cello plays can be compared to mid-19th century classical (or rather Romantic) music, but it becomes something unique through the guitar in the background, the placing in the song, and - unlike most uses of classical elements in rock or metal - its restraint; we hear the lone, melancholy voice of a cello, that instrument whose great expressivity is attributed to its similarity in pitch range to the human voice, a soloist instead of the clichéd orchestral overdose (whether it's a real orchestra or a synthesised one) so often presented to uninformed listeners. Being versed in classical music, I'm not someone who's impressed as soon as a band brings in a few arpeggios; but this passage really is lyrical and even quite touching in a wistful, dreamy way.
I've only gone into detail with a couple of songs, but all of them are highlights; there's not a second of filler here. Perhaps the Death cover "Lack of Comprehension" at the end, whose faithfulness to the original makes it slightly unnecessary, but now I'm being fussy . This is an excellent debut that gives reason to expect even more powerful contributions from Obscura in future.