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OBSCURA A Valediction

By Peter Atkinson, Contributor
Wednesday, November 17, 2021 @ 10:33 AM


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OBSCURA
A Valediction

Nuclear Blast Records




The faces may change – and they often do – but the virtuosic musical direction of German tech-deathers OBSCURA has largely stayed the course over the band’s occasionally tumultuous 20-year career. The turnover after its fifth album Diluvium, issued in 2018, was especially dramatic, with three-quarters of the quartet – guitarist Rafael Trujillo, bassist Linus Klausenitzer and drummer Sebastian Lanser – walking out to form the new band OBSIDIOUS.

That left guitarist/vocalist and lone OBSCURA constant Steffen Kummerer to carry on. But it wasn’t the first time he’s had to rebuild the team pretty much from scratch. And for A Valediction he’s “built back better”, to borrow a Biden campaign slogan, by bringing several familiar faces into the fold.

Bassist Jeroen Paul Thesseling and guitarist Christian Münzner – from the classic Cosmogenesis/Omnivium era – have rejoined after a number of years away. And with new drummer David Diepold rounding things out, A Valediction is nothing short of “A Triumph”.

What’s old really is new again, in more than a manner of speaking, here. The album begins another conceptual cycle, this one apparently a trilogy that is of a more personal nature than the cosmic evolutionary-minded, yet ultimately cataclysmic tetralogy that preceded it. But it does so with a gusto and guile that actually streamlines and beefs up the presentation to a certain degree, making it heavier and more intense while losing little, if any, finesse along the way.

OBSCURA’s progressive/technical bona fides have been well established – in whatever the shape or form of the line up – climaxing with the mind-boggling Diluvium. And there is no shortage of dazzle on A Valediction in the guitar histrionics of Kummerer and Münzner – who left the band partly because of the neurological condition focal dystonia that was affecting his fretting hand, and which he subsequently has compensated for by wearing a special glove to play - Thesseling’s lithe fretless bass and Diepold’s tornadic battery.

But after the frilly acoustic/harmony guitar intro to the opener “Forsaken”, OBSCURA takes a rather vicious turn that carries through the rest of the album. The fleet, gnashing riffs have a less supple sheen and more bite, the turbulent rhythms deliver plenty of crunch and velocity and Kummerer’s shrieking vocals are, well, shriekier than ever, sounding very Tomas (AT THE GATES, etc.) Lindberg.

Given that the band chose to work with producer Fredrik Nordström – who’s reputation for heaviosity has been well-earned over the past 30 years – to mix and master A Valediction, it would seem the more pronounced heft was a conscious decision from the get-go. And it’s a smart move.

After the jazz-like air of Diluvium, the band might have ended up sounding more like CYNIC or PESTILENCE – who Thesseling actually played two stints with – had it continued in that direction. Instead, OBSCURA does a reset and gets back to basics – such as “basic” is where these guys are concerned. The instrumental “Orbital Elements II” provides some dexterous showiness, as one might expect. And the synth- and solo-laden finale “Heritage” hints at Diluvium’s proggy sprawl, but it is most definitely an exception to the rule here.

With the menacing, MORBID ANGEL-like trudge of “Devoured Usurper”, the glorious power-metal catchiness of “When Stars Collide” - with SOILWORK’s Björn “Speed” Strid contributing his signature soaring clean vocals for the choruses - or the playfully flighty licks that punctuate the otherwise full-frontal “Solaris”, OBSCURA puts the focus on “metal” first on A Valediction, with the tech side coming as a natural extension of the band members’ considerable prowess. Indeed, tracks like “In Unity”, “The Neuromancer” and “The Beyond” are all-out ragers with Kummerer and Münzner sawing away for all they are worth over Diepold’s clatter.

Ultimately, A Valediction is a fantastic fresh start by some old hands. This OBSCURA lineup seemingly picks up where it left off a decade ago – well three-quarters of it anyway. And with some more seasoning and maturity from the passage of time, as well as a kick in the ass from a new drummer, it delivers a well-rounded, viscerally satisfying effort that sets the bar quite high for what’s to come - no matter who might be around to complete the trilogy.

4.5 Out Of 5.0


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