Retro-review: ‘Obscura’ by Gorguts

In the world of rock music, there are albums and there are milestones.

Obscura by Canada’s Gorguts is one of the latter.

Released in 1998, Obscura may have not flipped the death metal world on its head, but it definitely showcased what could be done with a genre that had been in decline for half a decade, coinciding with the release of their 1993 album Erosion of Sanity.

Obscura made Gorguts the death metal equivalent of the Velvet Underground. While not everyone may have bought the album, many of those who did turned around and started their own bands. That’s a great legacy to have along with having your album still held up as one of the greatest albums in the death metal genre 20 years later.

Gorguts, along with Suffocation, Demilich and a handful of others, is a death metal band that pushed the boundaries of what could be a rather cookie-cutter genre. They showed that you could be both progressive and technical without losing any of the brutality that made death metal, well, death metal.

The lynchpin of Gorguts in vocalist and guitarist Luc Lemay. He’s been the only consistent member of the band since its formation in Canada in 1989. Lemay can be credited as the primary creative force of the band and the one who determines its direction.

But, Lemay doesn’t do all the songwriting by himself. If he did, I’m sure it could just be called the “Luc Lemay Project.”

Aside from Lemay, this incarnation of Gorguts includes guitarist Steeve Hurdle, bassist Steve Cloutier and drummer Patrick Robert. Hurdle and Cloutier join Lemay in writing the majority of songs on Obscura. A couple of songs are credited to just Hurdle and Cloutier together, with a single track, “Clouded,” attributed solely to Hurdle.

With that much input, you’re either looking at a disaster where different members of the band try to have their moment to shine, leading to an uneven sound, or you have a solid piece of work where the band works together as a team, going for the best sound they can. 

Luckily, it sounds like Gorguts decided to work as a team.

The album

So, how do you start what’s considered one of the greatest death metal albums of all time?

Obscura” kicks off the album and it gives you a taste of what you’re in for. This song is definitely flirting with the avante garde, with it’s almost plucky sounding guitar and tempo changes. It pretty much tells the listener “if you don’t think you can handle the ride, get off now.”

If you choose to move forward, be ready for an endurance listen as this album is more than an hour of unrelenting, chest ripping and heart-eating death metal.

When I say “endurance,” I’m not kidding. This album does not let up.

It’s hard to talk about this album as individual songs because everything builds to a greater whole. It’s an experience, you’re either all in or you’re out. There is no picking and choosing.

If I were to pick some standouts, which is hard to do, I’d start with “Earthly Love,” the second track. This song feels kind of like a horror movie. It’s beginning and end are completely brutal, but in between there’s a rather, dare I say, pretty part with female voices and an almost violin sound, bringing up images of Suspiria or other gallo films.

Nostalgia” slows down things a bit, forgoing the relentless pummeling of the prior tracks for a wave of guitars that washes over the listener. It’s almost a soothing track if it weren’t for the stabs thrown in here and there to remind you “hey! This is a Gorguts album!”

Speaking of “slow,” the track “Clouded” slows things down to almost a sludge-like pace. Listening to it is like getting swallowed by cold black ooze. It does sound almost like a Godflesh track with some Cathedral thrown in, but that’s fine with me, I like both of those bands.

Subtle Body” pulls the listener out of the sludge that is clouded and puts them through the ringer with its fast pace before throwing them back into the sludge with “Rapturous Grief.”

The penultimate track “Faceless Ones” blends the elements that preceded it, creating a storm of a song. It’s a track that takes the listener by the arms and legs and rips those limbs away. Gorguts is at the top of what’s already a great game with this track. It’s hard to see them follow it up.

The closing track, “Sweet Silence,” doesn’t top “Faceless Ones” but serves as sort of decompression chamber for the album. The bass is deep here and the pace move fast, then slower and slower until there are long moments of silence between guitar chords, bringing a proper end to an album that is both crazy, technical and very odd.

The verdict

When it comes to death metal, I would suggest that Obscura is a worthy addition to any collection. It’s also an album that must be heard at least once by everyone that calls themselves a death metal fan. I think you could tell a lot about a person’s taste when you hear their opinion on this album. If they like it, they’re a person who is pretty adventurous with their music and probably loves music. Loves to talk about it, loves to try to play it and just loves listening to something new.

On the other hand, if a person hates this album, they’re probably the more conservative type, looking for something in their comfort zone. They may like to talk about music, but it’s music in a very limited scope. They’re not interested in expanding their musical horizons.

Obscura deserves all the accolades it gets. It’s an amazing album that any band would be proud of making. It’s inspired people to form death metal bands and gave already-existing bands an injection to up their own games.

Definitely worth buying at full price. That’s how good this album is.

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