Album of the Week 14-2012: Gorguts – Obscura

The state of Death Metal these days worries me. Many well-known bands these days focus fully on either groove or technicality, abandoning the hungry aggression that is so essential to the genre. While it’s so easy to have it all. When Canada’s Gorguts released ‘Obscura’ in 1998, it was easily the weirdest, most twisted and dissonant Death Metal album ever released – except for maybe Cynic’s ‘Focus’, but that’s hardly even Metal anymore – yet it retains the aggression and general feel of a Metal record.

Just look at the album cover and think of how well it could depict the music on the album. It’s certainly unconventional. It’s dark. It’s somewhat eerie. Though it’s only an old man meditating and you shouldn’t judge any album by its cover (‘Court Of The Crimson King’ anyone?), it is a pretty accurate visual representation of what is offered musically. Somehow, ‘Obscura’ is a pretty damn scary album to listen to in the dark. The music’s high degree of unpredictability is partially to blame for that. Some twists and turns are a surprise even for the most seasoned Prog veteran. And the dissonance and throaty vocal assault is just insane.

Despite the class of Patrick Robert’s drumming – it’s all over the place – and Steve Cloutier’s godly bass sound, it’s the guitars of Steeve Hurdle and frontman Luc Lemay that really give this album its identity. Their highly original approach is revolutionary. There are riffs, that’s for sure, but Lemay and Hurdle make their guitars scream, squeak and vomit even within riffs (check the opening title track for the first example). They know when to hold back though, sometimes creating a spacious, hypnotizing sound somewhat similar in spirit – but not in sound – to what Swans were doing at the time.

With so many riffs and twists thrown at you, it’s hard to pick out a favorite, but there are a few standout songs to these ears. First of all, ‘Nostalgia’ has a main section lead by Cloutier’s bass that shows that Gorguts is still perfectly capable of keeping the groove when necessary. The song is relatively conventional in structure, but nothing short in dissonance. But the highlight of the album has to be the bleak, nine-and-a-half minute, pitch black masterpiece that is ‘Clouded’. An incredibly slow song that builds on seemingly endless repetition, though with subtle changes most prominently in the harmonics, of this massive riff that feels like dancing around the nine circles of hell. It predates Celtic Frost’s magnum opus ‘Monotheist’ by eight years, but definitely taps from the same pool. Which quite likely has ink in it instead of water. Other highlights include ‘La Vie Est Prelude’, ‘Faceless Ones’, the closing instrumental ‘Sweet Silence’ and the title track.

Technical Death Metal isn’t anywhere near my favorite musical genre, but I know brilliant music when I hear it and ‘Obscura’ is a brilliant record. I just love it when musicians decide to not let themselves be limited by set boundaries and this is one of those cases. When you first hear this, it will be the most inaccessible record you have ever heard. Upon second listen, you won’t know what to do with it and after that, you’ll either love or loathe it. If you think you know your technical Death Metal, but haven’t heard ‘Obscura’, then trust me, you don’t know yet.

Recommended tracks: ‘Clouded’, ‘Nostalgia’, ‘Sweet Silence’, ‘Faceless Ones’

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