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A significantly more melodic take on Obscura's trademark sound - 90%

Agonymph, November 24th, 2021

When everyone except vocalist and guitarist Steffen Kummerer left German progressive death metal giants Obscura last year, the curse was turned into a blessing by recruiting guitarist Christian Münzner and fretless bassist Jeroen Paul Thesseling, thus reuniting 75 percent of the line-up that recorded their breakthrough album ‘Cosmogenesis’ (2009) and its follow-up ‘Omnivium’ (2011). Those expecting a reprise of those albums may end up surprised. ‘A Valediction’ still features all the trademark Obscura elements – a whirlwind of complex guitar patterns, unexpected songwriting twists and a highly dynamic approach concerning intensity – but is a significantly more melodic affair altogether.

Some fans of the band’s older work may be turned off by this more melodic approach, but since ‘A Valediction’ undeniably sounds so much like Obscura, there probably will not be many of those. Heavy guitars, powerful drums and fretless bass are pillars of the band’s sound and those are still here in spades. If anything, the more melodic approach makes the individual songs a bit more memorable. Obscura was always one of the more interesting bands of the progressive death metal scene to me because of their tighter songwriting chops, but never have entire sections clung to the back of my mind as much as those on ‘A Valediction’.

Not all songs are as overtly melodic as ‘When Stars Collide’, which was released as a video. Personally, I really like the song, because it is full of incredible riffs and euphoric melodies, though I am still in doubt whether Soilwork’s Björn Strid was the best choice for the brief clean chorus. On the other end of the spectrum, there is a track like the monstrously heavy ‘Devoured Usurper’, which at times feels like it could be a Bloodbath track, were it not for the overall dynamics and the intricacies of the middle section. Neither is a typical Obscura track, but neither feels out of place either.

One of the big benefits of the slight change of direction is that the material sounds more unique to Obscura. The band has been accused of blindly copying other bands – Death most prominently – and Kummerer occasionally openly agreed. ‘A Valediction’ has a handful of material that sounds like Obscura, yet unlike anything they have done before. The very neoclassically-tinged ‘The Beyond’ and delightfully melodic ‘In Aversity’ might be the clearest examples, musically sounding like they could pre-date death metal. I also really like the dynamic opener ‘Forsaken’, which is the longest track on the album but does not bore for even a second.

Very few technical death metal musicians understand how to write a good song, but Obscura has always been the pinnacle of songwriting within that scene for me. Where many bands in the scene strive for ever-increasing complexity, Obscura almost did the mirror opposite here without sacrificing any of their characteristic intricacy. The album may not feature as many fusion elements as some of their audience might hope, but I personally think it is all the better for it. Hopefully Münzner and Thesseling will be kept on board for good this time. If that happens, I foresee some more excellent Obscura material in the future.

Recommended tracks: ‘Forsaken’, ‘In Adversity’, ‘When Stars Collide’, 'A Valediction'

Originally written for my Kevy Metal weblog