GORGUTS — Obscura

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GORGUTS - Obscura cover
3.74 | 46 ratings | 7 reviews
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Album · 1998


1. Obscura (4:04)
2. Earthly Love (4:04)
3. The Carnal State (3:07)
4. Nostalgia (6:10)
5. The Art of Sombre Ecstasy (4:20)
6. Clouded (9:32)
7. Subtle Body (3:23)
8. Rapturous Grief (5:27)
9. La vie est prélude... (3:28)
10. Illuminatus (6:15)
11. Faceless Ones (3:50)
12. Sweet Silence (6:45)

Total Time: 60:30


- Luc Lemay / Guitars, vocals
- Steeve Hurdle / Guitars, vocals
- Steve Cloutier / Bass
- Patrick Robert / Drums

About this release

Label: Olympic Recordings
Release date: June 23rd, 1998
Producer: Gorguts, Pierre Rémillard
Recorded at Studio Victor in Montreal

Thanks to UMUR, triceratopsoil, Wilytank, siLLy puPPy for the updates


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This album is a core influence upon much of what I can’t stand in modern trends of extreme Metal, so it’s no surprise I don’t like it very much. While a few Tech Death bands were already verging into what I call “Too-Progressive Metal” for the sake of pushing the skill envelope and showing off musical prowess, Gorguts took it a step further and created Dissonant Death Metal, which sacrificed all form of songwriting, riffing and memorable performance for the sole sake of creating something weird enough to continue pushing Extreme Metal in a… well, more extreme direction.

Much like how most Grindcore is simply taking things too far a lot of the time to prove they are the most fastest and most heaviest, so too does Dissodeath (at least in this Avant-Garde instance). Gorguts were more concerned with what they could do rather than what they should do. There is very little that is aurally pleasant on this album. The first song opens up with one of the most obnoxious guitar… leads, I guess, that I’ve ever heard. Atonal skronking, for what purpose? I guess cause it was new and unique. Then the guitar starts making some weird beeping noises, which is less offensive somehow. Atonal chords follow… Yeah, aside from the ever-impressive drumming and respectable talent, it’s just not my cup of tea. The songs jump around in sections so quickly there is no time to sit with anything they are trying to do. This leaves every song entirely unmemorable, save for the weird stuff they do that stands out (oh yeah, this is the track where the guitars sound like a choo choo train). Even the vocals started to wear me down, being a bit of a higher pitched bellow.

The worst part, for me, is that this totally worked for most people. Not only is the album hailed as a masterpiece, but so many bands took after them, deciding this insane new direction was the future. And yeah, it’s still going. A very unfortunate trend I see on many music discussion sites is that modern Metal isn’t worth your time unless it’s Avant-Garde Extreme Post Atmospheric Technical Progressive Metal. And that unfortunate obsession, all started right here…
Was anybody actually ready for an album like Obscura back in 1998? Watch any early live performance of these songs on Youtube, and what you’ll see is a crowd that’s practically motionless. They’re not moshing, instead just stunned and transfixed at the bizarre dissonance and calculated chaos playing out before them. In the same year that other tech-death landmarks such as The Sound of Perseverance were being released, Gorguts had already left the archetypal trappings and conventions of the genre far behind with an avant-garde metal masterwork that stood - and still stands today - as a monument to mental anguish and turmoil.

I get the sense that much of the confusion and surprise surrounding Obscura stemmed from the sheer leap forward from its predecessor. The Erosion of Sanity is more sophisticated than Considered Dead, sure, but it’s still a relatively straightforward death metal album. No one could have predicted something like Obscura; imagine if Death released Individual Thought Patterns immediately after Scream Bloody Gore. So what happened? Well… Steeve Hurdle happened. Luc Lemay might be the co-founder and bandleader of Gorguts, but he’s never going to find a better wingman than Hurdle. The duo’s combined artistic vision led to a level of experimentation and twisted chemistry that can’t be matched anywhere else in the group’s catalog; if you have any doubts of Hurdle’s involvement in this partnership, the liner notes credit both him and Lemay with the “artistic direction” of Obscura.

And what an artistic direction this is. All of death metal’s stereotypical traits and tropes have been thrown out the window in favor of abstract lyrics, strange chord structures, and ever-changing time signatures. Instead of being technical for technicality’s sake, however, Gorguts use their musical toolkit as a means of communicating intense feelings of dread, despair, and viscera. While the songwriting is impressive, the way these emotions and thoughts are conveyed through the songwriting is what makes it so effective. It’s as if every weird bout of dissonance and every alien guitar squeal is another layer of sanity being ripped away from the listener. Of course, the vocals are also a massive contributor to this. If Lemay sounds demented and savage - which he does - Hurdle acts as his tortured and agonized counterpart. Every time Hurdle lets out a lyric, even if it’s not particularly disturbing, he transforms it into a twisted and ugly affair with his horrible retching and heaving. And what’s so wild about all of this is that the record makes more and more sense with repeated listens; what seems like chaos starts falling into place once you let the deliberate nature of the songwriting and execution sink in.

Of course, I don’t want to leave bassist Steve Cloutier or drummer Patrick Robert out of the picture either; the fact that they can make sense of the musical madness on Obscura and play these crazy riffs so impeccably is a feat unto itself. Their precision and technical acumen is a perfect foil for Lemay and Hurdle’s insane ideas, leading to a lot of chemistry between all members. Everyone is locked in with each other, which is absolutely necessary for an album that could go flying off the rails at any given time. Obscura reminds me a lot of Calculating Infinity by The Dillinger Escape Plan in that regard; both records have a habit of letting chaos and control coexist in strange and creative ways. Sometimes the two mingle, and sometimes they clash with each other. Still, one thing is for certain: the members of Gorguts are ridiculously talented. As for the lyrics, they’re a substantial step up from the band’s previous output; the gore and social commentary of yesteryear were now replaced with writings on existentialism, spiritualism, and - you guessed it - despair. In any case, they prove to be just as abstract and peculiar as the music they’re accompanying, which seems appropriate.

But to answer my original question: no, people were not ready for Obscura back in 1998. There’s a reason Gorguts are commonly cited as pioneers of avant-garde metal; nothing sounded like this back then, in the technical death metal genre or otherwise. If the album had proven anything, it was that many of their contemporaries were already being left in the dust artistically. Because of Obscura, extreme metal would simply never be the same again.
siLLy puPPy
Very unique, and a hard listen. Is it possible to get this on the first spin? I can't say this music is pleasing on the same level that we typically associate music namely, harmony, melody, familiar structure etc. What this delivers is intrigue and obscuration, hence the title OBSCURA. Although not familiar ones, there are patterns and structure to this perceived madness.

It makes me think of an alternate universe where the existence of square roots of negative numbers embedded in the fabric of space-time produce ugly, mangled and monstrous creations. This would surely be the soundtrack of tortured beasts shrieking and grunting in pain with a cacophonous accompaniment of aggression. A place where no benevolent nature exists and pain is all one can experience.

The reputation that this release has gotten over the years since it has been released is well-founded. I can't think of a stranger piece of music that invites me in to experience it again and again finding new ways to experience the somewhat familiar sounds of death metal but twisted into strange new concoctions.
One of the most downright bonkers technical death metal albums I have ever heard, Gorguts' Obscura finds the band eschewing the intricately structured jazz-death of Atheist or Cynic in favour of bizarre rhythms and dissonant avant-garde chaos. It's not quite free jazz death metal, but it's certainly downright peculiar, but I don't think it would be fair to write it off as merely being weird for weird's sake - there's a certain atmosphere the band establish here which is genuinely haunting, a sickening sense that the natural order of things has somehow gone completely wrong. I can't say this is for everyone, and many will walk away wondering what all the fuss is about, but on balance if you're into technical death metal you owe it to yourself to at least give it a chance, because good gravy you're not going to find much that compares to this.
Don't you just hate it when an album that people can't stop whoring about turns out to be a load of shit? Case in point: Gorguts' 'Obscura'. "If you do not like this album, you are not a fan of death metal." said one guy somewhere. Yeah, I don't think that my liking of Bolt Thrower, Immolation, and more is all for naught for me hating on this terrible, overrated album. It's not intriguingly intelligent. It's not headbangingly awesome. It's not even dark or disturbing. It's just fucking annoying.

Let me tell you what guitar wankery is. Guitar wankery is when you try to write and play your guitar riffs making them sound all technical and challenging but forget to make them actually interesting to listen to. 'Obscura' is filled with so much guitar wankery that the guitarists might as well be shoving their dicks through the guitar strings, and it is this blight that takes this album furthest toward the wrong direction if Gorguts wanted to make an album that was truly interesting. When there are songs that actually do have riffs that are somewhat interesting such as the post metalesque "Nostalgia" or the doomier "Clouded", you can rest assured that there will be plenty of wankery added to the song to level it all out. And the funny thing is that people say that it's the vocals that are the weakest part as if good vocals made any difference in death metal.

The other bad thing about this album is that it's an hour long. This review may have been (slightly) higher if Gorguts decided to cut a few songs and make the album less than 40 minutes. If they cooled it with the incessant wankery, maybe they would make the hour long trek less irritating. Sitting through this album as it stands isn't going to produce any memorable moments. It's just going to make you want to bash your head in.

The little melodic aspects that actually are existent in some of the songs, post metal vibes on "Nostalgia", and even the slower "Clouded" are simply not enough to save this album from the singularity of terribleness. Everyone knows of releases that leave listeners wanting something more; but here with 'Obscura', I'm left wanting less. This guitar wankery (used for the whogivesafuck-tienth time) makes this album so irritating that certain Merzbow pieces look like the best pieces of music in the world in comparison. So, no. I do not want something more. I just want to stop remembering.
Conor Fynes
'Obscura' - Gorguts (9/10)

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.

Members reviews

Jake Kobrin
This is one of those albums that, amongst thousands of albums, stands out as one of the most significant releases in music. In the vein of metal, the albums that contributed to the genetic make up of the genre are Black Sabbath, Kill 'Em All, Black Metal, Scream Bloody Gore, etc, etc, etc... This album can certainly be added to the same royal family. This album broke all of the rules, and re-wrote the book on what is possible in metal, and music in general. The roots of this band are purely based within death metal. In a vague sense, the gore-drenched riffs of old are still present in the heart of this album, but what was once chugging and maliciousness has been replaced with a beast that is obscure and terrifying. Honestly, this isn't "pretty" music, but it holds my interest more than most within the metal genre.

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