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Nobody could have predicted that when Steffen Kummerer formed his Obscura in 2002 that he and his men would outlast Necrophagist, from whence most members of Obscura’s most iconic constellation came. To be entirely frank, we’ve always had a soft spot for these Germans. Since their high-profile Relapse Records debut “Cosmogenesis” the Teutonic combo has been seamlessly merging the best elements of post-“Leprosy” Death and “Spheres” era Pestilence with the densely structured songwriting of Suffocation circa “Breeding the Spawn” and the instrumental wizardry of "Focus" era Cynic and Watchtower. “Diluvium” returns to the astral and cosmic themes of “Cosmogenesis” and deals with the death of stars, the emergence of black holes and the eventual collapse of the universe. Obscura was never afraid to venture into more philosophical – and esoteric territory. On “Diluvium” they cement their position as the best genre unit since Aurora Borealis.

One of the most appealing aspects about Obscura was that they never let themselves be dictated or restricted by the fairly narrow limitations that the death metal genre usually employs. Not that their Gorguts inspired moniker wasn't enough of an indication of that very thing. Always more of the Chuck Schuldiner school of songwriting Kummerer and his men have always prided themselves on bringing an air of intelligence and sophistication back to the typically bovine subject matter that death metal usually dwells in. “Cosmogenesis” chronicled, among other things, the birth of the universe and a variety of astral phenomena. From that point on Kummerer handled the collected works of forgotten German philosopher Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph Schelling, one of the founders of the Naturphilosophie, on “Omnivium”. “Akróasis” further explored philosophical concepts, detailing the titular Greek philosophical term that originated with Plato and formed a cornerstone of Neoplatonic systems. After two back-to-back excursions into more ethereal - and esoteric realms, Obscura returns to more astronomical themes.

“Diluvium” is the first Obscura record where the lion’s share of the material wasn’t written by Steffen Kummerer. In fact the majority for the session was written by bass guitarist Linus Klausenitzer and lead guitarist Rafael Trujillo with Kummerer only contributing the trio of ‘Emergent Evolution’, ‘Convergence’ and ‘The Seventh Aeon’. On “Akróasis” the progressive flourishes already came to be more prominent and “Diluvium” continues that evolution. In direct comparison the Kummerer-written albums tend to have a more conventionally percussive, straightforward slant about them that is largely traded in here for a greater interplay between each of the instruments collectively and every instrument individually. Klausenitzer, like Thesseling before him, already was an integral part on “Akróasis” but on “Diluvium” he’s finally given the space to weave some truly mesmerizing ebbing and flowing, oozing bass licks. The ambient synthesizer washes, acoustic breaks, and vocoder ululations all are accounted for and “Diluvium” sounds recognizably Obscura. The biggest difference is that the Klausenitzer-Trujillo material generally tends to be more on the melodic side. ‘Ekpyrosis’ unfortunately is not a valentine to curly Italian wonder Ilaria Casiraghi.

Obscura is far more progressive minded and melodically inclined on “Diluvium” and the percussive thrust from “Cosmogenesis” and “Omnivium” has been largely relegated to the background. The change isn’t entirely unexpected and Obscura has always been as much inspired by “Focus” era Cynic as they were by “Necroticism - Descanting the Insalubrious” era Carcass. Germany has a history of being responsible for some great (if not largely forgotten or unknown) technical death metal acts as Cemetery, Golem, Pavor and Ingurgitating Oblivion. Obscura had the good fortune to come from the Necrophagist family tree and thus had the necessary industry connections to build a career for themselves. To his credit Kummerer and his band have proven resilient in the face of trial and tribulation and survived two major line-up changes since forming in 2002. By letting his bandmates contribute to a larger degree Obscura is allowed to explore the more conventionally brutal and the more progressive aspects of its sound. Hopefully the next record will see Kummerer and Klausenitzer-Trujillo contribute equally.

Very much like Death on “Symbolic” Obscura chooses a far more deliberately paced, elegantly melodic and progressive approach to songwriting on “Diluvium”. Anybody surprised by Obscura’s venture into and exploration of more melodic realms clearly hasn’t been paying enough attention to the way this band’s earlier records were structured. “Akróasis” had the best of both and on “Diluvium” the pendulum swings the other way. “Diluvium” is consistent with Obscura’s past repertoire and the limited involvement of Kummerer as a songwriter opens up the possibilities of where Obscura can take its music without losing sight of the sound they are rightly famous for. Linus Klausenitzer and Rafael Trujillo have proven to be worthy replacements for Christian Münzner and Jeroen Paul Thesseling. Obscura is now perhaps at the most potent it has ever been. “Diluvium” is a diversion into more melodic - and progressive realms but Obscura is a band that seldom repeats itself. That alone is worthy of admiration and adulation. Obscura is Germany’s most visible death metal band for a reason. “Diluvium” once again evinces why…

Plot: a troupe of ballerinas is terrorized by vampires in a distant castle

Following the success of Riccardo Freda’s and Mario Bava’s I Vampiri (1957) a stream of more kitschy gothic horror productions followed. Among the earlier ones to profit from the renewed interest in the genre were Renato Polselli’s The Vampire and the Ballerina (1960) and the campier Piero Regnoli companion piece The Playgirls and the Vampire (1960). The Vampire and the Ballerina is, of course, an elaborate excuse to have a group of attractive girls performing semi-sensual dance routines in tight-fitting leotards and have them walking around in short low-cut evening gowns. Some sources allege that a very young (and uncredited) Femi Benussi can be seen among the ballerinas, although all official sources indicate that she didn’t start acting until at least 5 years after. Despite, or in spite of, its pulpy nature The Vampire and the Ballerina can be very atmospheric – and even occasionally artsy – when it stops focusing on the titular ballerinas for a bit. Polselli would do the same thing again with The Monster of the Opera (1964) that mixed vampire lore with the 1910 Gaston Leroux novel The Phantom Of the Opera.

In a remote European village young maidens are found drained of blood, inevitably leading to illness and death. In the environs a troupe of ballerinas are training with their choreographer Giorgio (Gino Turini, as John Turner) at the estate of a professor (Pier Ugo Gragnani, as Ugo Gragnani). When a young blonde by the name of Brigitte (Brigitte Castor) is brought to the mansion for medical treatment, it is the perfect opportunity for the old professor to tell the wide-eyed and almost child-like ballerinas about the old folklore tales of the region. Francesca (Tina Gloriani) takes a special interest in the stories even if the rather serious Giorgio wants to hear nothing about it, as it will scare the other ballerinas witless for no good reason. Giorgio - who not only is the troupe’s choreographer but also the professor’s grandson - proposes to Luisa (Hélène Rémy) and Luca (Isarco Ravaioli) is close to doing the same with Francesca. They retreat to their chambers and the next day they find themselves lost in the woods as a thunderstorm breaks out. They seek refuge in the nearby Damian Castle, a remote and somewhat dark château hidden deep within the Lombardy poplars forest, until the storm passes.

In the castle they are greeted by the aristocratic countess Alda (María Luisa Rolando), a woman from another age decked out in a sixteenth century dress and untouched by the passage of time. In the castle halls the couples are drawn to an ominous portrait of what Alda refers to as her 400 year old ancestress. The countess and her servant Herman (Walter Brandi) offer their guests food and shelter until they can continue their journey. Alda and Herman both take an interest in the group and ensure that the ballerinas and Luca each make their seperate returns to the castle. As Luca becomes increasingly spellbinded by the alluring countess, Alda confides in him that she is, and has been, in fact Herman’s prisoner for the past several hundred years. Many a moon ago Herman vampirized her and the two have been living a symbiotic slave and master relation since. Alda drains Herman’s blood to retain her youth and vitality, which in turn forces him to feed on the pure blood of innocent maidens to hide his monstrous appearance resulting from the countess’ sanguine feeding habits. Soon Luisa and Francesca are stalked by an eerie shadowy figure haunting the bowels of the castle. As the group comes to realize they are being preyed upon by a vampire and Luca comes to grips with the dire hopelessness of Alda’s situation, it’s up to him to stop the menace.

Director Renato Polselli may not exactly have been controversial but a constant through his filmography is his striving for freedom from convention. Polselli pushed a distinct narrative on psychology, sexuality and morality. He frequently found himself as the forefront of pushing the boundaries in Italian cinema for two decades. As many of his contemporaries he started within the confines of gothic horror in the sixties but in a decade hence would be pulling into weirder and wilder realms. In wicked and wild seventies Polselli helmed a string of erotic horror productions (usually starring Rita Calderoni) that weren't so much concerned with narrative cohesion as they were with atmosphere and gratuitous female nudity. The original treatment for The Vampire and the Ballerina was written by Giampaolo Callegaris, but Ernesto Gastaldi found it unsatisfactory – and rewrote it with Polselli. Gino Turini was one of the production’s financiers and was given a role for that reason. Tina Gloriani was Polselli’s girlfriend at the time and she landed her role that way. The Vampire and the Ballerina was originally slated to be a French co-production and thus Hélène Rémy was brought in. Ombretta Ostenda, Stefania Sabatini and Franca Licastro were bit part actresses cast for their radiant looks.

Isarco Ravaioli was in the fumetti Diabolik (1968) and Satanik (1968). Walter Brandi was in the peplum Ulysses (1954) and graduated into gothic horror with The Playgirls and the Vampire (1960), The Monster of the Opera (1964), and 5 Graves For A Medium (1965) with Barbara Steele. He would act as the production manager on Luigi Batzella’s The Devil’s Wedding Night (1973) and the Bruno Mattei zombie debacle Hell of the Living Dead (1980) as well producing the little seen Alfonso Brescia action yarn Cross Mission (1988). The Vampire and the Ballerina was shot over three weeks in late 1959 in and around the 16th century Palazzo Borghese in Rome, Lazio, where once famous poet and later politician Gabriele d’ Annunzio lived ‘in splendide miseria’. The same location would also be used in Piero Regnoli’s more playful The Playgirls and the Vampire (1960). The score from Aldo Piga contains plenty of ominous theremin and clarinet. The cinematography by Angelo Baistrocchi is workmanlike and not particularly riveting.

The Vampire and the Ballerina and The Playgirls and the Vampire (1960) are two largely similar features that take a more playful approach towards gothic horror. Of the two The Playgirls and the Vampire (1960) is the most all-out campy. The Vampire and the Ballerina on the other hand has a few atmospheric moments and spooky scenes among its seemingly endless shots of nubile women doing sensual dance routines for absolutely no other reason than it can. Hélène Rémy and Tina Gloriani are frequently seen wearing very low-cut dresses, similarly do the ballerinas wear tiny sleeping gowns. María Luisa Rolando is barely able to contain her considerable assets in her medieval dress and there’s plenty of decolettage. The Vampire and the Ballerina sort of makes you wonder what could have been. Imagine what a gothic horror ensemble piece with the likes of Graziella Granata, María Luisa Rolando, Sylvia Sorrente and Helga Liné acting as vampire queens could have been. It’s unfortunate that no production company rose to the task of providing just that. To say that this would’ve been a memorable high point of Meditterranean horror cinema regardless of the actual screenplay and director would be putting it mildly. At least we got The Dracula Saga (1973) in the following decade which, more or less, was a who's-who of Spanish horror -  and cult cinema.