Apr 042011

(Regular NCS contributor BadWolf provides this critique of the new album by Germany’s Obscura.)

Simon Reynolds did an absolutely fantastic history of Drum N’ Bass/Dubstep (and all their subgenres) in The Wire magazine (thanks again, Michelle!). It is some of the best music journalism I know. An integral piece of his argument is that illicit drugs have an intimate relationship with the modern evolution of music. Stoner Metal’s existence is evidence that this phenomenon is present in metal as well.

If this is true, Obscura’s Omnivium is a strong case that death metal is fundamentally a house divided by preferences in substance abuse. To me, Bolt Thrower, Cannibal Corpse and Entombed are fundamentally barbiturate music (“We drink n’ drink n’ drink n’ drink n’ fight…”), while the bands that are Obscura’s obvious progenitors are, to me, death metal of hallucination.

Obscura have dropped the cold amphetamine speed of their previous disc Cosmogenesis, (which I enjoy more retroactively now that I have listened to Omnivium) and embraced psychedelia. Omnivium does not view time and space as limitations, but things to confuse the listener with. And how like a hallucinogen, prolonged exposure to Omnivium is first and foremost disorienting.

As their peers in Krallice are doing (according to an article in the new Decibel), Obscura have focused on the dissonant melodic elements present in old school DM, and rather than used them as breath-catching reprieves, have made them the complete focus of their sound. I would place these two bands, along with perhaps Decrepit Birth, at the forefront of a modern technical psychedelic metal movement as distinct from more minimalist bands too obvious to mention. (more after the jump . . . )

The effect is twofold: One, the barbiturate violence, the abrasion that once characterized DM and has become the sole goal of deathcore, is severely toned down—this is nowhere NEAR as heavy as a similarly technical band with a more vested interest in Suffocation might be. Two, when the barbiturate/toughguy lock-step of every instrument in unison (innovated by Judas Priest, mastered by Slayer, intensified by virtually all extreme metal) does occur, it is an absolutely climactic experience.

Even Jeroen Paul Thesseling’s potentially best-in-the-business fretless bass wizardry (previously their greatest feature and secret weapon) is sublimated into gaseous and spectral music, punctuated by suns of shredding insanity and planets of rock-solid mosh rifts that probably make up less than 10% of the record.

Those celestial bodies—with the occasional satellite James Hetfield ‘ooh!’—tend to cluster toward the beginning and end of the record. I’m guessing listeners who gut albums to create playlists will be extremely fond of “Vortex Omnivium,” the only obvious single. Those people are missing the point: This is a set it and forget it affair.

Omnivium is a cohesive work musically, artistically, and also commercially: The album reveals a cohesive brand which began on Cosmogenesis. That album was expansion and the follow-up is crystallization. Other bands have been doing space-death for longer, but Obscura embrace it the most, embody it the best, and with Omnivium stake their claim at being the forefront of spacey technical psychedelic extreme metal.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Here’s a track to give you a taste of what Omnivium has to offer:

[audio:https://www.nocleansinging.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/04/02-Vortex-Omnivium.mp3|titles=Obscura – Vortex Omnivium]

  10 Responses to “OBSCURA’S “OMNIVIUM”: A CRITIQUE”

  1. This was really well written Islander. I think I get them now. I ordinarily skip over most tech-death because i generally don’t dig the weedily-weedily sound too much, but this was appreciably different, at least after reading your description. Another really nice touch is that they can achieve a very heavy sound without absurdly down-tuned guitars (nothing against lower tunings though, just saying it can be a crutch). I am not sure what tuning they are using, but it’s nice to know that they they don’t rely on lower frequencies to create artificial heaviness.

    As an aside – Entombed has always been death’n’roll to me, though I can certainly see the barbiturate reference.

    • This really was well-written, which should have been your first clue that I didn’t write it. 🙂 Sloppily, I forgot to include an introductory line explaining that this is BadWolf’s piece — though I’ve now done this. He will be happy to see your comments — this was a bit of an experiment for him in approaching an album review in a different way.

  2. Wait so does it mean there’s not as much protruding fretless bass work? waaaah!

  3. well written bro!
    i really liked omnivium, and the psychedelia factor kind of added an extra reason for me to somehow “re-discover” the music every time i hear it, because it somehow sounds more layered, i don’t know, but i like it allot.
    you mentioned drugs and music, i suggest you listen to rings of saturn then, here is the bandcamp page http://ringsofsaturn.bandcamp.com/

  4. Holy shit, this album left me wide eyed. I don’t smoke pot anymore, but hearing shit this insane makes me seriously reconsider it…That and doom metal.

  5. I don’t get the “psychedelia” aspect from it from listening to it.

    But that may be because I’ve never done drugs and experienced a psychedelic moment.

    I do think I prefer Cosmogenesis though, even though some of the new songs are clearly better, the album as a whole doesn’t click with me as perfectly as Cosmogenesis did.

  6. Reading the review I thought I would not like this, however the linked song isn’t half bad. However since it’s also the song singled out by the reviewer as the “obvious single” I’m wondering how different it is from the rest.

    • BadWolf seems to be otherwise occupied. BadWolf? Where are you bro? We have questions that need answering about Omnivium!

    • It’s not SO different, but it has a few big structural differences. It’s the most straightforward song, the only song with a really big chorus, and probably the least adventurous in terms of sound.

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