The best thing about getting advance copies of CDs for review is knowing that you might be the ONLY person in the world listening to that particular album at any given moment. A few weeks ago I was blasting Obscura’s second disc, Cosmogenesis, over headphones at the gym. As the fluid sweep-picking intro to “Universe Momentum” erupted into its opening brainmelt riff, I looked around to see if anyone else looked as happily stupefied as I did. Nope. Clearly, Obscura had an audience of one at Bally Total Fitness.

To follow the workout metaphor, Obscura are like one of those dudes with -5% body fat that can go top speed on the elliptical on level 20 for an hour straight, then do 1000 crunches in five minutes and bench press an elephant all without breaking a sweat. Riffs and counter-riffs ripple through Cosmogenesis like undulating muscles. Drummer Hannes Grossman flings precision blastbeats and poly-grooves through shifting time signatures with the casual flexibility of a yoga master. Inhuman guitar solos slide and sparkle across the surface, thin capillaries running through the music’s alabaster-smooth skin. Obscura’s German provenance feels about right: this band represents the tech-death equivalent of the Übermensch, and Cosmogenesis the sound of death metal virtuosity transcending itself.

While the planetary explosions of the Cosmogenesis artwork and metaphysical slant of Obscura’s lyrics suggest cosmic coldness, their music feels warm and firmly grounded. Obviously a band with two ex-members of Necrophagist and a former member of Pestilence will make music that tests the limits of musicianship, but Cosmogenesis rules beyond expectation because it feels alive despite each song’s technical precision. “The Anticosmic Overload” and “Noospheres” humanize their Atheist and Death-influenced riffing with skintight Gothenburg hooks. Just as important is the influence of fretless bassist Jeroen Paul Thesseling on Obscura’s overall sound. His inventive pops and slides – mixed way up front, given solo space on two tracks – add a sensuality that death metal usually lacks. Save for Intronaut’s Joe Lester, nobody is redefining the role of the bassist in death metal quite this brazenly.

If there’s anything to complain about here, it’s that Steffen Kummerer’s vocals don’t match the rest of the band’s range. The Cynical vocoder work on “Choirs of the Spirits” and the filtered vocal melodies on “Infinite Rotation” are nice touches, but pretty needless  – when your band can weave tall harmonies and acoustic guitars into a phenomenal death metal song without any words at all (“Orbital Elements”), vocals are gonna be an afterthought. We’re not here to be sung to, anyway. We’re here to listen to death metal continuing to evolve, far beyond the endpoints that ultimate brutality and ultimate chops have set. Yeah, Cosmogenesis is that good.

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(4 1/2 out of 5 horns)


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