GORGUTS — Obscura (review)

GORGUTS — Obscura album cover Album · 1998 · Technical Death Metal Buy this album from MMA partners
5/5 ·
Necrotica
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.
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siLLy puPPy wrote:
14 days ago
Oh yeah! Voivod was actually probably the first to do the dissonant thing but yeah, Gorguts took it all to a new level by creating a gnarled progressive sonic assault with Obscura. I listened to this on a road trip last summer and am more blown away by this album the more i listen to it. Definitely one of the masterworks of metal IMHO
UMUR wrote:
14 days ago
Yeah an Voivod of course also used a lot of dissonance and twisted chords already in the 80s, so it´s not like Gorguts invented that, but the way they fully embrace the dissonance and make it the central focus of the music is after all pretty unique for the time. It´s such an extreme album in every way possible.
siLLy puPPy wrote:
14 days ago
Band's like Demilich were paving the way for Obscura though. The dissodeath elements started out before this album but it was Obscura that opened the doors for all those bands. I'd say Meshuggah also paved the way for a more dissonant technical sound. This album took me a while to wrap my head around but it sure holds up over time!
UMUR wrote:
14 days ago
The answer is no...few people were ready for an album like "Obscura" in 1998, and no one expected it. It sounded alien, dissonant, and strange (and still does today), and it´s one of those releaess who have become retrospectively acknowledged more than they were upon release. The influence on the death metal scene is huge!

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