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Album Review: Obscura’s Akróasis

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Getting an album’s song order just right is an art unto itself, as challenging and necessary as getting the songs themselves right.  It’s possible that song order has faded into quaintness, in this age of single-song purchases, but that hardly seems likely in the metal culture, where individual songs rarely tell the whole story a band wishes to convey. Engaging interest, not losing attention, allowing ears to rest and wander, then bringing back all the killer reminders of why we’re listening in the first place…  All these phases play a powerful role in audience attrition rates.

With that in mind, it seems (to me, anyway) to be a minor tragedy that the fifteen-minute odyssey “Weltseele” has been relegated to the end of Akróasis.  By the time listeners reach the fireside acoustic picking that opens the piece, opinions of the album have been shaped, set and nearly ossified by the forty minutes of preceding music.  First track “Sermon of the Seven Sons” dawns with that languid, synthetic vocal effect that is immediately recognizable by anyone who owns Focus.  Later in that song (and elsewhere throughout Akróasis) we’re treated to some of those smeary fretless bass solos that so befit the style.  From there, it can be said that the intricate tech death rains down from Obscura’s golden geometric cosmos like… well, there’s nothing quite like having your brain dissolved, irradiated, crystallized and reassembled by the ungentle claws of highly detailed death metal.  Individual moments in every song flash into brilliance (the chorus in “Ode to the Sun,” the acrobatic soloing in “The Monist”), but many songs are so segmented as to have little holistic lasting effect.

And then, long after the sturdiest metallurgists have begun to feel tech-fatigue settling through muscle into bone, “Weltseele” rises like a new statement of purpose and focus.  Lolling out of the gate like Toad the Wet Sprocket’s “Pray Your Gods” (arcane alt-pop reference, anyone?), the song quickly picks up steam and lurches from evil march to heated gallop.  The twisting layers of sonic structure and bent notes bestows a sense of color and character on the song’s multiple sections that was not always apparent on earlier tracks.  Bowed strings blend with urgent strumming to heighten the drama and tension.  “Weltseele” isn’t so much a stylistic departure as it is a series of complete ideas that swell and breathe with emotional, intellectual complexity that is too easily missed on other tracks.  It weaves a tale that balances brains with brawn, and it feels utterly wasted at the close of a merely competent album. 

Of course, if we can be honest with each other, we should admit that none of us really understands what Obscura are up to.  Sure, you might be a technical guitar prodigy who can finger all those knuckle-popping parts after a single listen, but do you really comprehend all the compositional loop-de-loops that take us wandering among acoustic asides and bass solos?  Or maybe you’re a music theory guru with your finger on the pulse of every thematic twist and turn, but can you also comfortably navigate the philosophical/mathematical implications of “harmonically universal order… which manifest in numbers, visual angles, shapes and sounds,” as Kummerer rattled off in a recent interview with Decibel?  Please.  If you are not actually a member of Obscura – or possibly Origin or Gorguts – do not pretend to understand Obscura. 

All I’m saying is that releasing “Weltseele” as a self-contained EP might not have been the worst idea in the world.

Obscura’s Akróasis comes out Friday, February 5 on Relapse. You can stream the entire album here and pre-order it here.

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