Widely considered to be one of the most enduring examples of experimental metal, ‘Obscura’ is an album that has already sparked plenty of discussion long before the writing of this review. Released in 1998, it has since influenced a wave of left-leaning bands in death metal, each seeking to bring the genre to the next level, much like Gorguts did here. Make no mistake; ‘Obscura’ is a fairly tough cookie to chew at first, even for someone already well-exposed to a variety of extreme metal. As jarring and weird as death metal gets, Gorguts’ music here is well worth being considered a classic, although it took me quite a few listens to finally agree with that statement.
As a baseline, death metal is typically about heavy riffs, furious drumming, and a harsh vocal style of growling that typically obscures the lyrics. Gorguts is clearly a death metal act and shares each of these traits, but it is the wealth of additional elements to the music of Gorguts that makes the music stand out. Although a band with the name Gorguts would not tend to inspire thoughts of jazz or neoclassical music, there are sounds of both woven deep into what the band does. Gorguts’ sense of dynamic ebbs and flows much like a jazz group, and the dissonant harmonies between the bass and guitars sometimes brings to mind a number of 20th century composers. Although the hour length of the album seems all the more vast due to the jarring and dissonant nature of the music, there is not a moment where the quality lets up, although for music like this, a slightly shorter experience may have been a little more effective.
Death metal vocalists tend to sound quite similar, and while Luc Lemay still employs a familiar style of growls and raspy barks, there is a ferocity to his voice that is rarely heard in death metal. Instead of going the route of low,virtually inaudible gutturals, Lemay’s delivery is rooted in bringing the demons out of his throat; and his voice sounds very strained throughout, although in a good way. That being said, Lemay’s vocals are the weakest element of ‘Obscura’, although that is more a cause of the jaw-dropping musicianship, rather than a fault of the vocals. The odd and atypical ways the guitar is used on this album create some very strange and quirky sounds, as is evidenced within the first ten seconds of the record. It sounds like death metal riffs are being channeled through a wah-wah pedal, but whatever it is, the strange guitar style is both one of the album’s greatest strengths, and a big reason why Gorguts is met with controversy. This is not the sort of death metal that will even please most death metal fans; the out-of-tune sound of the riffs is a little uncomfortable at first, but the quality sinks it after some listens have come and gone.
‘Obscura’ was never an album I disliked perse, but it was at first a pretty difficult album to crack. Although I would not consider myself any stranger to avant-garde metal or experimental music in general, the complexity of the music here demands many listens to truly be experienced. It still could have been a little shorter, but ‘Obscura’ is undoubtedly a masterpiece of death metal.
1. Obscura (4:04)
2. Earthly Love (4:04)
3. The Carnal State (3:08)
4. Nostalgia (6:10)
5. The Art of Sombre Ecstasy (4:21)
6. Clouded (9:32)
7. Subtle Body (3:23)
8. Rapturous Grief (5:28)
9. La Vie Est Prelude… (La Morte Orgasme) (3:28)
10. Illuminatus (6:16)
11. Faceless Ones (3:50)
12. Sweet Silence (6:46)
* Luc Lemay – guitars, vocals
* Steeve Hurdle – guitars, vocals
* Steve Cloutier – bass
* Patrick Robert – drums