Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Obscura - Omnivium (2011)

Having produced one of 2009's more enticing progressive/tech death albums in Cosmogenesis, Obscura proved they were a band to pay close attention to; perhaps a supplement to the niche left void at the passing of Death, the mutation of Cynic, or the rebirth of the Dutch Pestilence to more brutal fundamentals. For surely, the Germans' cosmic and philosophical leanings are an extension of Schuldiner's Human vision, or Spheres, or Focus (they've even got Jeroen Paul Thesseling playing bass). However, they had created a sophomore album so impressive and compact that it might not have held up to direct recycling for its follow-up, and thus Omnivium introduces a few outside elements that were not so obvious on the predecessor.

The most noticeable of these are likely found in the opener "Septuagint", which is essentially a melodic death piece with an opening sequence of clean guitars that recall such usage of artists like In Flames or Metallica. Once the slightly tech melodic death surge arrives, I was reminded heavily of Canada's Quo Vadis, a band I've never really been impressed with. You'll still hear the twisting, interstitial structures of Cosmogenesis riffing, but I found this track to grow sour on me pretty quickly. I had heard it before the album's release, thought it interesting, but ultimately it's not so enduring. "Ocean Gateways" is another swerve into variation, with a straight burst of double bass rolling, thick Thesseling bass manipulation and jangling guitars that create a cystic wall of spacial spears. Once again, it's a curious piece, but after a handful of listens it just fell out of favor. Both "Euclidean Elements" and "Vortex Omnivium" are more in line with the material from Cosmogenesis, but I found neither to be wholly engrossing, as the band tend to incorporate too much into the creative lifestream without much individual distinction.

However, the other half of the album is quite the opposite in quality. "Prismal Dawn" creates a mesmeric effect, almost psychedelic (ala Cynic), with the clean vocals and glorious, scientific precision, almost as if one of those episodes of The Universe on History channel were adapted to a tangible, musical flesh. "A Transcendental Serenade" returns to clean guitars, but they are swollen in volume swells and erupt into well placed, crushing mutes and a scintillating tapestry of bass and guitar melody. I also found the majestic "Celestial Spheres" and the woeful, ponderous "Velocity" to hold their own thrills, and the closer "Aevum" serves as a qualitative bridge between the stronger and weaker material. There's also a bonus track on the deluxe edition of the CD, Cacophony's "Concerto", originally found on their Speed Metal Symphony LP. An interesting choice, and surely the Germans are up to the task of adapting Friedman and Becker into a slightly more brutal context, but apart from the novelty, it doesn't add a lot.

I was really torn with this album. It's got the same, superlative modern production aesthetics that will either absorb the prog-seeker or send the modern tech-death hater screaming away in fits of agony. To some extent, this is necessary, as the band are hurtling ideas faster than some listeners might be able to comprehend them, and at least you can get a clear grasp on them. I found the cleaner vocals to be rather nice here, but the gutturals level with Cosmogenesis. Yet as a whole, the content seems fairly inconsistent. Its predecessor might not have promised the same level of adventure and variation as Omnivium, but it overall more impressive than this. I can certainly picture myself returning to "Prismal Dawn", "A Transcendental Serenade" and perhaps a few of the others on a regular basis, but the first half of the album offers only a brief flirtation with curiosity, and no further compulsion. Overwhelming proficiency and potential yield mixed results here.

Verdict: Win [7/10]

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