I first came across Obscura in high school with the release of 2011’s Omnivium during my technical death metal phase. It quickly became one of my favorite metal albums, and while I’m not as in-touch with the style as I was back then, it still ranks up there as a personal favorite and easily one of the best metal releases of the decade. The wait for a follow-up was surprisingly long, with their next album Akroasis coming out 5 years later, and while it was a worthy follow-up, I felt it was marred somewhat by some less-than-stellar production. Thankfully, the wait for their latest album was nowhere near as long, with Diluvium finally here to round out their 4-album conceptual suite that started back in 2009 with Cosmogenesis.
The album wastes no time getting started as it barrages the listener with sweeping guitar leads, furious tremolos, and technical arpeggios, accentuated by a flurry of dense drum rhythms/fills and excellent bass work. “Clandestine Stars” sets the tone of the album perfectly with all of these, creating a frantic and ominous vibe driven further by guitar syncopations at odd intervals and vocals that swap between deeply guttural and synthetically-driven cleans. This sets a good foundation that continues and is iterated upon throughout, with songs like the title track which similarly mimics the off-kilter rhythmic syncopations while also leaving room for half-time bridges that feature enough breathing room for streamlined chord progressions and more soaring lead solos.
The guitar work is consistently excellent from track to track, as Steffen Kummerer and Rafael Trujillo’s interplay is something to behold. There’s many dense layers to their melodic and rhythmic constructions to the point where multiple listens are required just to pick up on everything. “Ethereal Skies” shows off their chemistry at some of its most intense, with tap-heavy guitar melodies giving way to rapid 16th-note tremolo riffs and sweeps building an epic vibe accentuated by additional string accompaniments. Meanwhile, “Ekpyrosis” has a consistent riff punctuated further by additional guitars and drums with further dark melodic work, and the song even includes clean passages of acoustic guitars and noodling bass melodies, allowing some breathing room between heavier segments. Special mention should also be made of “The Seventh Aeon,” with a middle section that’s dense with wispy leads, shredding solos, and clean acoustic passages all trading off between one another.
Not to downplay the rest of the band, the drum work is also intense, complementing the rest of the band through equal levels of technique and occasional restraint when needed. Sebastian Lanser’s playing carefully matches the fast frenetic guitar rhythms, pounding away with similar ferocity, especially with the multitude of massive double bass drum runs and rapid blastbeats across the record. “Ethereal Skies” contains a great deal of triplet grooves at play, occasionally throwing the listener for a loop with clear polyrhythmic tendencies between the kick patterns and sticking patterns, and the snare rhythms often leave a tense amount of room between hits. When the drums aren’t filling up songs with dense cymbal patterns and endurance runs, they are laying down some hard-hitting grooves elsewhere on record. “Mortification of the Vulgar Son” evokes aspects of Omnivium with how massive its grooves, driven not just by the heavy low-end guitar riffs, but also the drums slamming really hard on the toms at spots to help make everything feel sonically huge.
This continues into the final few tracks, especially with the tom-heavy fills in “The Conjuration” creating some satisfying grooves through the huge slamming low-end segments of the track, but the drums also know when to streamline themselves effectively for breathing room. Songs like “Ekpyrosis” and “Convergence” demonstrate this perfectly, as amidst the flurry of technique and blistering musical flashiness, the songs streamline their drum parts in places to allow breathing room to draw attention to the other aspects of the composition. These are often where many of the solos take place, which are often every bit as spectacular as the main riffs and arpeggios at play throughout, but they also provide room for more of the synthesized vocal passages, letting them soar above everything in an appropriately epic manner.
There’s much to enjoy about Diluvium’s many technical aspects, especially as they’re all bolstered by some exceptional production choices that make everything feel very lively and mythic, but the album structure can be a bit off at times. This is only really an issue in the first half of the record, but with things getting started right away, the gas doesn’t let up much throughout this run of songs. Occassionally, this can make it feel like the album repeats itself a bit as this or that dense arpeggio/tremolo riff can bleed into another, and the main respites come from the more pounding straightforward grooves of the final few tracks, but this is ultimately just a minor bother. Diluvium is another major hit for Obscura, one that proves they deserve to be the titanic force they are in the tech-death scene.
Final Verdict: stream it. Obscura continue to impress with everything they have in their bag of musical tricks.
Diluvium is available from Relapse Records on CD, vinyl, digital download, and streaming services.
[Note: a copy of the album was provided by Relapse Records for the purpose of this review.]