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Though its successor Cosmogenesis is the sole Obscura record that I find myself repeatedly returning to, Retribution was a fairly interesting control group from which the band's more interesting ideas evolved, and it also possesses a fraction more raw intensity due to the less polished production values and wilder exhibition of those ideas...several were thrown out there to passing celestial bodies in the great expanse, and only a few stuck, but it was obvious from the beginning that these German exemplars might fill the void left behind by Necrophagist's indecision to continue producing and releasing material beyond their sophomore album Epitaph. So, hey, if Obscura, Cytotoxin and Centaurus-A have decided to shoulder the kraut tech death burden themselves, so be it...I like a lot of what I've heard from them, if not everything.
Retribution is based in blasted brutality like a lot of other, cruder death metal of the last 15 years, but the difference here is that they drew upon the jazzier, progressive chord arrangements redolent of forebears like Death, Atheist and Pestilence in the early 90s. I'd liken it to Chuck Schuldiner having written a record for Brazil's Krisiun, or Morbid Angel going all cosmic with a more scientific, adventurous theme rather than that of grotesque eldritch horror (though Retribution is lyrically more personal than its followup). Perhaps a meatier-clad Mithras is also a viable comparison. At any rate, you'll recognize a lot of the techniques, in particular the drumming, but these are imbued with some more atmospheric phrasing, chugging and squealing reminiscent of commonplace US brutal death metal, and even some cleaner vocals to balance out the rather indistinct post-Chuck growls here that would probably flee my mind entirely if not for the contrast they create when sustained against the busier music. But lots of the chug riffs feel like those spidery Morbid Angel crawls of yesteryear, and though there are some calmer and more atmospheric passages dowsed in harmonies, a lot of the tremolo picked passages feel pretty bland with the blasting...I'm just glad they break these up often enough that Retribution doesn't grow totally dull.
On both a technical and memorable level, the songwriting on the debut just doesn't match up with the second album, due to the fact that most of the more interesting riffing breaks just feel like leftovers from either Death's Human or Atheist's Unquestionable Presence, only beyond their more savage context with the more intense drumming, they really don't do anything special. Speaking of which, I found the mix of the kit a little hissy, especially the cymbals and hi-hats. Just not something I really enjoyed...he can blast or roll out the double bass with the best of 'em, but has no more character than a drum sequencer, and I wouldn't have been surprised to find out that was what they used here. I've even got the remastered version of this through Relapse with the better cover art, and it doesn't sound so hot. The cover tunes (Death, Suffocation and Morbid Angel) are probably a little too obvious to be interesting, but they at least showcase their ability to play at that level, just not to write at it with their originals. All told, this is an adequate but skippable debut which ekes out little more than the groundwork to launch its successor into the depths of the cosmos.
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.