Obscura
Akroasis
(Relapse Records)

When guitarist Christian Munzer and drummer Hannes Grossmann left Obscura two years ago to start Alkaloid (among other things), the prevailing notion was that their leaving sparked the creative end of Obscura. Nearly everyone counted out founding member Steffen Kummerer (guitars/vocals) and his ability to carry on the band. Obscura was halfway through a four-part, high-concept run of concept albums, and just about everyone counted Obscura out. The final death blow was how decidedly excellent and startlingly progressive Alkaloid’s debut was (I happened to love it).

Like the phoenix rising from the ashes, Akroasis, a sun-themed record, is shockingly and unexpectedly Obscura’s best record yet. However, it’s easy to see why Christian and Hannes left the band. This album recalls Cosmogenesis much more than Omnivium, with Obscura’s trademark ability to make stupidly technical death metal feel so wonderfully catchy. Nothing on Akroasis is quite as overtly melodic as “Anticosmic Overload”; however, the title track and “Ten Sepiroth” get mighty close. Rather, Steffen and company do a great job of expanding on the known Obscura template and pushing it forward, testing the band’s limits.

Akroasis is much more progressive than technical, with ambiance and Cynic-style vocoder vocals used to great effect. Plus, there’s an almost Gojira-like groove presents in some tracks (like the excellent “Ode to the Sun”), which is a welcome addition. It all comes together beautifully with the magnificent 15-minute closing track, “Weltseele”. The track never feels overlong and highlights how much more comfortable Obscura has become playing around with songwriting. That’s where the progressive elements are done so well; Akroasis doesn’t feel noodly or overbearing; it feels more complete because Obscura are more assured and confident in crafting whole songs this time around.

That’s what’s most surprising about this record. In the midst of member shuffling and questioning of direction, it’s fair to assume Akroasis would be a transitional album, one with some great moments amid awkward growing pains. Instead, this feels like the completely natural evolution of a band in peak form. Akroasis is undoubtedly the best Obscura record yet, and it’s a testament to all of the members involved at how cohesively and natural the album flows and sounds. It’s likely to be the best progressive death metal album of the year. Plus, it doesn’t hurt that the band’s mitosis created two progressive metal giants (this and Alkaloid) instead of weakening both. (Nicholas Senior)

Purchase Akroasis here.

5-stars

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