The noted ‘90s prophets Semisonic gave us the sage reminder in “Closing Time” that “Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.” When guitarist Rafael Trujillo, bassist Linus Klaussenitzer, and drummer Sebastian Lanser amicably split from famed tech death giant Obscura, the trio came at that infamous point.
Not pleased with sitting idly by, they chose a new beginning, recruiting vocalist Javi Perera and launching Obsidious. Their fully remote efforts (more on that later) begot an astounding debut, Iconic, out today via Season Of Mist, one that feels both like a fresh start while also hinting at an even more promising future.
Not only does this new entity sit quite close to the former band in the dictionary (purely by accident), but it’s clear that Iconic is like the result of a few phases of biological cellular division. If you like precise, melodic, and lightning fast guitarwork; bouncy, fretless bass, and proggy, hip-shaking drumming (all hallmarks of Obscura and Obsidious), you’ve come to the right place.
Though, and this can’t be understated, Iconic is a pretty seismic shift in tone and tenor, as both the sound of and way Obsidious deploy Perera’s voice is very distinct. We’re much more in Dream Theater or Protest The Hero territory, and it’s clear the band want to be more mindful of creating catchy songs first and foremost, leaving the dazzling displays of virtuosity to serve as the tasty icing on top (yes, I mix metaphors more than I mix cocktails, sue me).
As the grand first opening of Obsidious, their mission statement is clearly to redefine what modern, progressive death metal could be: catchy and fun as hell.
“Yeah, we are all fans of progressive music,” Trujillo expands. “All kinds of genres from progressive rock to metal to fusion, more like the jazz fusion stuff. So, we as musicians, we like to express ourselves with fast lines, complex chord structures, and interesting harmony methods. We also are big fans of death metal, obviously, but also clean singing vocals and actually having melodies in the vocals.
“We (had the) thought (to) combine this. Because our background with what we did for Obscura, we knew we wanted to move on in that direction, but we want to go further than before because also we want to step out of the tech death thing. We wanted to open it more into a progressive thing, and that’s where the clean vocals come in, which turned out pretty cool. And obviously, we spend so much time together; also musically wise, we connect pretty good. And, yeah, what turned out, it’s a new thing, a new beginning for us also.”
I’m struck with this new beginning a bit because so much of Obsidious feels like not only an evolution of modern extreme metal but also a perfect introduction to new fans of modern progressive metal. I, like many 30- and 40-somethings, got into prog through Dream Theater, who feel like an obvious influence here. Both bands utilize incredible musicianship in the purpose of memorable songwriting at their best, so I had to ask Trujillo if my intuition was correct:
“Yeah, definitely. It’s funny that you mentioned Dream Theater because that’s also the band I started with when I was a teenager, and then (guitarist John) Petrucci obviously was always one of my big heroes, especially back in the days, so that’s obviously a huge influence too. Well, my favorite Dream Theater album, that’s difficult, actually. Obviously, Metropolis Pt. 2 is a big one for me, but also I remember the first time I saw them live was on the Systematic Chaos tour, so also that album impressed me a lot back then because that was the time, when that came out, I discovered Dream Theater. I remember I learned some riffs and stuff, and I was like, ‘OK, that’s tricky stuff’ (laughs).”
“And about Javi,” he continues. “When we left Obscura, we made an audition, and we had some different vocalists. We had a long list. And Javi, I remember hearing his audition, and I was like, OK, definitely, that’s the guy. It was a perfect match from the beginning on. Also, he’s an amazing musician. He has perfect pitch, and he does production stuff, and he also has theory background and stuff, and that’s not very common for singers. So, that was really impressive. And that’s why we chose him as well, because we can communicate in the same musical language. Because all the recording sessions we did were through the internet, basically, because we wrote the album during the lockdowns. So, yeah, it was a very interesting process. And with him, we are really happy to have him.”
At any inception, there’s a spark, a creative fire that ignites when you know you have something special. Does Trujillo remember when that moment these ex-Obscura guys became Obsidious?
“Well, we had a lot of ideas lying around on our computers back then for, actually, Obscura because we were planning on doing another record for them. And then after we said we are going to split up with the band, we were like, what do we have? Let’s figure out what kind of direction we want to go. And a lot of that stuff was actually planned to be Obscura stuff, but then obviously we adapted it.
“We have all the freedom to do whatever we want because it doesn’t have to fit a specific genre or for certain fans anymore; we could start the musical journey from the very beginning and can create a new brand. And then, well, the whole album, actually, is a combination of different things, but actually, a lot of those ideas we already had written before we even left because it was meant to be on the next Obscura record.”
This makes me even more excited for the next record because these are the first mutations away from Obscura, and you’ve still got some of the DNA, understandably, from those sessions. I think anyone who listens to it can see that. So what’s the next stage of evolution for Obsidious; is there a moment or song that speaks to that vision?
“Well, that’s hard to say. On this record, there are a lot of different approaches, actually, because there are some very complex songs or very fast stuff. We as musicians, we like to challenge ourselves when we write. So, we like to create things, so to say, from nowhere.
“And then I would say for the future of our musical journey, it’s hard to say. I think still that our passion is the same thing, to mix virtuoso stuff and lines with mainstream melodies and then singable parts. I don’t know how familiar you are with Dirty Loops; they do that in the pop genre. They play over complex chords and stuff, but have very simple or repetitive melodies. And that’s our goal as well for this, especially for this project, to have solos, to have these little gimmicks and rock parts, but then at the same time, having a chorus where you can sing along to.”
It’s almost like Obsidious are playing with both sides of my brain—pushing extremity and melody simultaneously—and I think that explains why I like the record so much, especially “Iron and Dust.”
“It’s interesting that you mentioned that song,” Javi adds. “’Iron And Dust’ is also actually one of my personal favorites of the album,.”
Why is that?
“I wrote this little riff that’s going on through a song and this arpeggio thing. And then I’m a fan of the chorus, Javi, the line he sings there. I love it. I love it so much because this is actually the combination we were talking about, having that melody in the chorus, and it’s a lot of 4/4 in the song, but at the same time, it has some complex stuff in it. And that’s what I love. That’s why I love to listen to prog music.”
Here’s where I realize something: have these guys actually been in a room together, or was all this writing and recording all virtual?
“Once. We had a photo shoot together, but that’s it. But we are going to play Euroblast festival this year, so we are going to rehearse before that, too. So, we’re going to see each other again. That’ll be the first time we all play in a room together. We did some remote sessions earlier, but not in that kind of setting, writing the whole album like this, never did this before together. So, this was very new, and it was also very challenging because trying to figure out which app works best to transport music. We all have the equipment at home. Everybody has his little home studio, and I record the guitars at my home studio, and then I send them around or we do a session together and I share the screen with the sound, and then we’re like let’s do this and that. And it’s a long process.”
Wow. So, by default the next Obsidious can only get better because the best parts of the band are the way each member and part plays well with each other. Having time to rehearse, perform, and write in the same damn room will only improve that close connection. There’s not a single note in here that’s simple, aside from a couple of vocal melodies. The idea that they were able to pull this off totally virtually is pretty incredible.
Photo courtesy of Obsidious