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An impressive start - 85%

asymmetricist, March 1st, 2007

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 clich├ęd 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.