REVIEW: OBSIDIOUS – “Iconic”
Iconic is the debut album from the internationally collaborative act, Obsidious, formed from the major personnel reshuffling of neoclassical technical death metal band Obscura. In many regards, Obsidious comes to us in direct response to the musical approach presented by Obscura, and comparing and contrasting these bands is inevitable. Iconic is on the chopping block of that comparison.
Iconic is exactly the sort of record you would expect from musicians so masterful at their craft that they border on deeply academic. Anyone who is interested in the neoclassical slice of technical death, with purple musicianship, extended instrumentation, dense songwriting, with a focus on virtuosity, have come to elevate Obscura as the answer to the void left by Necrophagist and Spawn of Possession. In that regard, Obsidious takes the place of some of the vacancies left behind by Obscura as they explore new musical horizons.
The opener “Under Black Skies” lets us know what Obsidious are all about, with equal amounts of pomp and grit, expertly dancing between musically complex arrangements, and more straightforward grooves and punches useful to get the blood pumping. And in that regard, we already get a taste of the major difference between Obsidious and Obscura. Obsidious takes more pains to write cogent “metal” songs that do not quickly devolve into fretboard wankery.
This isn’t to say that there aren’t any mentions of absolute string flamboyance on tracks like the title track “Iconic”’ and some of the more expansive sections on “Bound by Fire”. Obsidious also brings a lot of the jazz-fusion pizzazz to their tech-death fare on tracks like “Sense of Lust” and “Bound by Fire”, with tricky time signatures, progressive guitarwork, and sparkling bass lines. Nothing we have not heard with Obscura, Alkaloid, Gorguts, Gorod, etc, but just a wee bit sharper! What Obsidious gets right, is the art of the crescendo, the rewarding resolution after building up tension in the aforementioned progressive sections, is so very satisfying. Resolving jazzy riffs into nearly traditional death metal breakdowns makes both contrasting moods shine brighter!
As a personal preference, I like when my tech-death leans heavier on the death metal side of things, with an increased focus on rhythm guitar, riffs, and punchy chord work. As someone who considers tech-death and tech-deathcore as their pet genres, I resent when bands overindulge themselves in their own self-aggrandizement with “verbose” shred work. This was sadly what was causing me to lose interest in Obscura, even though I have favorably reviewed their earlier records here. It makes me happy that Obsidious spends more time writing catchy songs, that are both technically impressive, and weighty with their gravitas. The inclusion of keyboards and strings on most of the tracks on Iconic lend an epic backdrop for the guitars to do their thing and fill in many of the spaces in the low-register oft left vacant in shred bands.
Obsidious was borne off guitarist Rafael Trujillo (ex-Obscura) who took the Obscura formula, and his own academic brilliance and worked out ten tracks of bouncy techy proggy metal. He effortlessly jumps in and out of many subgenres of extreme metal, skirting into jazz fusion, melodeath, prog rock, and tech-death, with jagged riffs, boppy licks, and spicy solos. Bassist Linus Klausenitzer (ex-Obscura) is one of the poster children of the fretless bass army. His bass intro to “Delusion”, could easily be an advertisement for fretless bass, and he makes a compelling case to switch, on many of his bass arrangements all over Iconic. His bass lines on “Devotion” can easily be used to seduce your lady during a romantic dinner, along with Rafael’s solo work. Drummer Sebastian Lanser (ex-Obscura) keeps Iconic feeling like a death metal album, whilst also providing the firm yet the ever-shifting foundation for the switching moods that litter Iconic. “New” to the Obsidious ensemble is vocalist Javi Perera. At first perusal, his reliance on lengthy clean vocal sections on every track of the record was frankly a bit off-putting. Admittedly, it took a couple of end-to-end listens to fully appreciate what he brings to the table. His clean vocals are not cheesy like the ones that feature on many pop-punk or metalcore bands, but rather reminisce more towards the melodeath and prog death metal sides, with parallels drawn to Scar Symmetry and Dream Theater, and that is high praise. He chooses to cast soaring vocals, nearing Nightwish levels of operatic giddiness. Do not let that distract you from the fact that Javi is also an extremely competent death metal vocalist. He can growl and grunt with the best of ‘em. His vocal chants in the chorus on “Devotion” particularly strengthen the anthemic nature of the guitar chugs and became an instant earworm! The vocals are what separate Obsidious from Obscura, and I think the vocal diversity is a feather in their cap!
Lastly, the production of Iconic is everything I appreciate in technically complex music. Every element, every layer, every guitar riff, every bass line, and every solo, is pristinely mixed. The solos cut through the riffs, the harmonies play well off each other, the vocals sit neatly on top of the mix, the drums hold the lower end without sounding messy and the bass sounds crisp even in the densely crowded sections. Tech-death producers should take notes by listening to Iconic.
Iconic is a significantly strong debut record from juggernaut musicians in Obsidious. They do enough to feel familiar as a neoclassical technical death metal band, yet do plenty differently to keep Iconic on the playlist for repeated playbacks and not get demoted to a Side B version of other more established bands in their niche!