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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…

There’s little in the way of contesting that Waldorf, Maryland death/black metal formation Aurora Borealis has been experiencing an upward career trajectory ever since “Time, Unveiled” in 2002. While more melodically inclined in their earlier years 2006’s “Relinquish” heralded a far more aggressive approach to the sound the band had perfected in the years prior. The induction of Mark Green in 2011 was instrumental in taking Aurora Borealis to the next level and he is now the longest serving skinsman since his illustrious predecessors Tony Laureano (who went on to Angelcorpse and Nile) and Derek Roddy. “Apokalupsis” is the culmination of the evolution that commenced with “Relinquish”. By and large “Apokalupsis” is the most abrasive and all-out combative Aurora Borealis has sounded to date. Needless to say “Apokalupsis” fits seamlessly into Aurora Borealis’ contemporary repertoire.

It’s unbelievable enough that Aurora Borealis is the vision of just one man: producer, multi-instrumentalist and vocalist/lyricist Ron Vento. Assisting Vento are long-time contributors Jason Ian-Vaughn Eckert on bass guitar and drummer Mark Green. Ian-Vaughn Eckert is a consummate professional that can weave flowing funky licks like Mike Poggione (Monstrosity), Jeroen Paul Thesseling or Chris Richards (ex-Suffocation) if given the place and time, but "Apokalupsis" is too singular in its objective to bludgeon to allow him said space. In an ideal world Mark Green would have been presented bigger opportunities at this point in his tenure with the band. For hitherto unexplained reasons this hasn’t occured yet and Aurora Borealis will continue to reap the benefits of his stellar talent until the inevitable bigger names come calling. Green has the makings of a new star in extreme metal drumming and undoubtedly he’s destined to follow in the footsteps of Laureano, Roddy, and Yeung who all went to become institutions in their own right.

Lyrically Aurora Borealis has always been putting many of their contemporaries to shame. Whereas their earlier work dealt with ancient history, mythology and the darker aspects of foreign cultures, “Apokalupsis” expands upon the science fiction concepts from “Timeline: The Beginning and End of Everything” and its companion piece “Worldshapers”. It delves into the theory of Old Earth Creationism and is very much a retelling of the Bible from the perspective of alien entities. As God casted out all rebellious angels he assigned each to a specific star. Each of these stars is custodian to a demon and each demon is trying to break free from captivity to manipulate mankind into their greatest deception. Each demon disguises itself to reach mankind, be it in the Garden of Eden with Adam and Eve and the serpent or as aliens guiding great rulers (pharaohs, kings, presidents, et al) by their visitations on Earth at various points in recorded history and facilitating the creation of tribal god images and religions. Once these tools are in place they continue the deception to reach their ultimate objective, the Apocalypse or the End Times.

Aurora Borealis has chosen to go in the opposite direction of a band like Monstrosity. Whereas that band went for a more deliberately paced, highly stylized and more melodic iteration of their vintage Florida death metal sound; Aurora Borealis has adopted a more traditional, conventionally percussive direction. Virtually all of trio’s more atmospheric enhancements have been excised on “Apokalupsis”. That is not necessarily to their detriment as it cements that Aurora Borealis can just as easy compete with the likes of Malevolent Creation or Nile as with more progressive-minded outfits as, say, an Obscura or bands of similar persuasion. In fact “Apokalupsis” is probably Aurora Borealis’ least adventurous recording to date in that regard. There are perhaps more than a few shades of “Relinquish” to be found here and the more epic wanderings of “Praise the Archaic Lights Embrace “ and “Northern Lights” are conspicuously absent. The change is not exactly surprising since “Timeline: The Beginning and End of Everything” provided plenty of hints in that direction that “Worldshapers” went on to consolidate. Those hoping for another ‘Slave to the Grave’ will be left with their hunger but Vento and his Aurora Borealis never disappoint, and they don’t do here either.

“Apokalupsis” is thoroughly traditional. Moreso than any of Vento’s past ventures with his band and it's significant for exactly that reason. This is the best record that Malevolent Creation never released. It easily surpasses Nile’s “Annihilation Of the Wicked” in sheer brute force and makes Morbid Angel’s recent return-to-form sound rather limp and flaccid in comparison. Personally we are more inclined towards Aurora Borealis’ more epic offerings but there’s no contesting that “Apokalupsis” does exactly what it promises. This is by far the Maryland trio’s most apocalyptic opus to date and befitting of the time and title it absolutely refuses to take any prisoners or do any concessions. Dying Fetus might be Maryland’s most popular export but Aurora Borealis have proven to be an underground royalty in their own right. For 28 years and counting Aurora Borealis has proven to be the most underrated US death metal band. Few bands can match Vento’s consistency, work ethic and instrumental proficiency. It remains a question for the ages why his Nightsky Studio facility isn’t more popular with bigger and smaller metal bands alike. Even at their least adventurous Aurora Borealis is leagues better than whatever is popular in the underground right now. It’s about time people start paying some attention to Aurora Borealis lest they be ravaged...