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Gorguts - Obscura CD (album) cover




Tech/Extreme Prog Metal

4.38 | 147 ratings

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5 stars Coming back to this review I wrote a long time ago in 2010, I realized I had written things in a manner which was too eccentric. Let's take it slower this time.

On a more calm note to start off 2014, as others may have mentioned, this album has more in common with the late 60's avant-garde works such as Cpt. Beefheart's Trout Mask Replica or Pink Floyd's Ummagumma, than it does with any sort of metal since 1970. Even modernist/expressionist music in the vein of early Arnold Schonberg could be considered a more suitable comparison. It is a very dissonant album, using things like diminished fifth power chords or 4-note chords which bar over only one fret, for example. In my opinion, this album easily qualifies as the Ummagumma of death metal.

As others mention, this album lacks a clear descriptive basis other than that it's loosely rooted in death metal. It's just plain weird - some people try to use terms such as "jazzy" or even "neoclassical" to describe the album, and while the elements may be there at times, there isnt any sort of "Hey, this kinda sounds like _______" vibe that you get from the album; it has its own unique sound, plain and simple. Upon first listen, I remember my thoughts being somewhere along the lines of "What the **** did I just listen to?" It can take a few listens just to actually see what's going on, never mind being able to process and enjoy it.

Following the decline of death metal's popularity in the beginning of the mid 90's, Roadrunner Records dropped Gorguts from their roster and the band broke up. Frontman Luc Lemay (guitar, vocals) reformed Gorguts with guitarist/vocalist Steeve Hurdle, bassist Steve Cloutier and drummer Steve MacDonald and the group began writing the material for Obscura (though, MacDonald quit the band in early '96 before rejoining after Obscura; Patrick Roberts appears on the album). Steeve Hurdle provided much of the creative vision for this phase of the band, owing to influences such as Frank Zappa and even the Grunge music of the late 80's and early 90's. The material for Obscura was written between 1993 and 1995, but the album was not released until 1998 due to lack of support for such a radical set of compositions.

Avant-garde is definitely the term for this kind of music; however, what sets it apart from other avant-garde metal music (such as Orthrelm or Behold... the Arctopus, for example) is the sludginess and heavy chord use throughout the album. Typically, when one looks up a band that is classified as avant-garde metal, one tends to find albums full of blazing fast single-line notes which appear to have very little structure and sound like excessive childish curiosities. Obscura, upon first listen, seems wildly chaotic, noisy and off-key, however, repeated/deeper listenings reveal a great deal of unorthodox structure and simplicity (i.e, none of the riffage/solos are by any means super technical, impossible to play, or sonically excessive). The lyrical content is also vastly different to traditional death metal and music in general; the trippy themes, with high amounts of unorthodox emotional content, tend to be well complemented by the weird noises that the musicians get out of their instruments. Take, for example, the song Subtle body; themes of intensity, ghostliness, transcendence and enhancement are backed by an eerie guitar solo that brings to mind something like coming into contact with an otherworldly spirit of unknown nature. You would never hear something like it in any other album.

The downtuned (C standard) guitar and bass riffs are generally very slow, blocky and sludgy, often giving room for Steve MacDonald's drums as a lead instrument. This can be heard on many tracks throughout the album, most notably Rapturous Grief, Illuminatus and Sweet Silence in my opinion. There are many slapped bass chords throughout the listening experience that add a blocky, Zappa-esque wall of sound to the album, and give a solid background for the strange riffage and drumming played by the rest of the band. At times, it seems that this album would translate very well to an arrangement for an orchestra (ex, tracks like Earthly Love or Rapturous Grief).

Generally, the pivot point that either makes or breaks the album for most listeners is the dissonance and the vocals; the pivot tends to be towards breaking the album for most. As mentioned before, the album is mostly, if not completely dissonant, and tends to be unappealing to those who enjoy the major/minor/dorian/etc riffage of more traditional metal. The vocals are harsh; with Luc Lemay employing more traditional death metal vocals, and Steeve Hurdle providing a hoarse, strained, high-pitched howling type vocal performance (somewhat hard to explain Hurdle's vocal style, but it is 100% unique and original). This again proves difficult for those who are not a big fan of harsh vocals, and difficult even for fans of death metal vocals due to Steeve's strained style of singing. Personally, as a fan of dissonance, avant-garde/progressive music and a hater of clean vocals in most if not all sorts of extreme metal, this album naturally makes its way into my list of favourites.

Despite telling you how unpleasant the album is to most, however, the display of compositional ability is unlike any metal album made before or after Obscura. When I discovered this album in 2009, I had never heard anything like it, and to this day it still holds up to that. Any serious fan of music as an art form should be able to appreciate, if not enjoy, the immense amount of effort and creativity embodied in this album. As another reviewer mentioned, this is probably one of the best compositions of the century.

5 Stars.

Erik91 | 5/5 |


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