When it comes to taking an extra large-sized bucket of notes, chords, musical theory, skill, and technique and playing it all with utmost dexterity and precision at three points over the speed limit tempos but still managing to have hooks, structure, the occasional ear worm come out the other end of well-sculpted and constructed songs, Obscura are arguably the top of the class at not making extra large-sized bucket of notes, chords, musical theory, skill and technique and playing it all with the utmost dexterity and precision at three points over the speed limit tempos.
Please take note of the preceding run-on sentence. Reading that travesty against the English language is how exhausting it sometimes feels like when listening to the latest prodigious tech-death hot-shots slap titles on their rudiments and warm-up exercises and call them songs. Bells, whistles, flashing lights, bright colours are all well and good and go a long way as short-term attractions and distractions, but ultimately it don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing. And Obscura have that swing. Always have, even as band leader/mainstay guitarist/vocalist Steffen Kummerer has been forced to steer the ship through a who’s who of flash and talent since forming the band in 2002.
Taking into account Obscura's overall popularity, A Valediction is no doubt a highly anticipated release. If it isn't people salivating at the return of guitarist Christian Münzer and bassist Jeroen Paul Thesseling to the fold, it was folks wanting to witness what'll happen with the Nuclear Blast machine behind the band's back. Additionally, and in my limited corner of the world, anticipation is also thick in the air given the completion of the four album series set — is 'quartilogy' a word? — that began with 2009's Cosmogenesis and ended with 2018's Diluvium. Granted, the associations amongst and between those two, 2011's Omnivium and 2016's Akróasis were rooted more in thematics with the musical side being more fleeting, but sharp-eared listeners could pick out the similarities, cross-album references, related lead-ins/fade-outs and connections throughout.
A Valediction is the band, now back-stopped by the impressive tub-thumping of David Diepold and his even more impressive mustachio-farming aptitude, cut footloose and fancy-free, so to speak. It's a near wholesale cleaving of the past. It's mostly familiar faces coming back together to apply years of musical and personal growth, triumph and toil, lessons learned to the spotlight feature. It's Obscura standing more unencumbered and iconoclastically as they push the quality of their own work and, by default, the broader world of tech-death towards the worlds often depicted on the genre's album cover art.
And if there was any hesitancy that the above paragraph or two was the bullshit ramblings of a senile old coot, opener "Forsaken" elevates the notion of newfound freedom working in Obscura's favour to ridiculous heights. The song bookends a vintage Def Leppard-ish acoustic passage augmented by Rush-like church organ/Taurus pedal honking with a magnanimously epic and infectious stab at some 'Racer X death metal' as all the ferocity, blasting tempos and cut throat sinister-ness are given a coquettish, lollipop-stained side glance by ridiculously catchy leads, 'roided up harmonies and fretless bass twanging and lurching. "When Stars Collide" pulls a similar move of liberation as it juxtaposes customary darkened tech-death against broad classical flourishes and a clean sung vocal section by Soilwork/The Night Flight Orchestra vocalist Björn Strid. The choppy, mosh pit skanking and raging velocity of "In Adversity" waves a similar flag of escape, and then there's "Devoured Usurper" which takes a surprising stroll into the realm of sludgy doom, resplendent with deeper than usual Cookie Monster vocal vomit and riffs featuring at least 80% fewer notes and changes than usual. This is before the song takes a brief hop, skip and jump into the world of hardcore crossover with a sequence that these ears hear as Crumbsuckers. Reading about Crumbsuckers in an Obscura review? Bet your Weird Metal Shit bingo card doesn't have that square?
It's not a stretch to imagine that the square 'Playfulness' isn't on that card either. But "Solaris" puts the impish side of the band's personality on display with stop-on-a-dime arpeggiated blips and bloops within a riff that's both about as serious as a heart attack as it is background accompaniment to Manowar shaving and oiling their pecs. It should be noted that this track in particular has Diepold showing a serious aptitude for maintaining that elusive swing, even while all his limbs are flailing at top speed. Check out the basic and tasty four-four he lays down behind the solo section and feel the groove! The smile-in-metal routine continues with the title track as Kummerer hollers "Let's go!" with live show energy to match the bouncy staccato of the riff, Diepold's sharp accents and smooth legato of the guitar tandem's flash.
All the while, in light of the unshackling and musical winks and nudges, Obscura continue to offer gold standard tech-death via tungsten sturdy song writing with hooks, flow, discernible beginnings and ends and riffs that exist and transition logically and with purpose. "The Beyond" shines with vim, vigor, and class with an virulent structure very reminiscent of the mid-section of "Ride the Lightning." Even the instrumental "Orbital Elements II," which one might expect the band to go absolutely nuts and lose the directional plot completely, balances on the edge of the precipice and is grounded by a riff lifted straight from Megadeth and/or Diamond Head.
As far as technical death metal goes, A Valediction will receive deserved glowing praise from fans and heaps of critical brown nosing from those in the know. What we're hoping for is that the album makes it such that Obscura are able to expand even more beyond the fret watchers, BPM counters and 'Betcha Can't Do This' show-offs; that the metal scene as a whole recognizes this album's inclusion of styles, moods, textures and the secret weapons connecting technical precision with humanity's heartbeat that make it virtually flawless and one of the best releases of 2021.