Saturday, May 25, 2013

JERKING THE CIRCLE Vol III: Gorguts - Obscura

 I feel like I'm taking crazy pills...

For real, Obscura is the album that inspired this entire series in the first place.  The reason for this is simple; as far as I've been able to tell, there is no other album in all of heavy metal that is both as well loved by the fandom and also as intensely reviled by me.  I can understand near-universal worship of bands and albums I dislike most of the time, I really can.  Hell, I rag on Helloween's most notable work all the time, but I know why people like it.  I understand how and why it was so influential, even to bands that I enjoy.  I get it, I really do.  But for the life of me, Obscura still eludes me.  What the fuck is it that makes this so goddamn revered?  I really can't wrap my head around it.  The only way I can rationalize it is by viewing it from the "I love weird things for the sake of weird things" crowd, but even then I still see this hailed by both old school death metal fanatics and snobby prog fans alike.  Something about Gorguts's third album brings everybody together, and I'm not even exaggerating when I say I've spent roughly eight years listening to this album on and off trying to make sense of it all, and I just cannot for the life of me understand the appeal in this sonic trainwreck. 

Some people are just suckers for dissonance, I can get that, it's why shit like Portal and Ulcerate are so popular in the underground.  Hell, I'm a huge fan of SikTh and they're pretty notorious for sounding terrible on purpose since the guitarists don't know a lick of music theory and just kind of play whatever.  But Gorguts here manages to be dissonant 100% of the time, there isn't one consonant chord or melody throughout the entire bloated runtime of Obscura.  I'm as serious as a goddamned heart attack right now, for real.  This manages to run over an hour without anything pleasing to the ear happening.

But BH!  It's death metal!  You can't expect death metal to be pleasing to the ear!  I bet you're an In Flames fan!

Clearly I mean pleasing in a death metal sense.  I like listening to Cannibal Corpse, I enjoy rocking out to Immolation, I could spin the first Krisiun album day and night, I have honestly nearly shat my pants during "Suspended in Tribulation" during a Suffocation show, I enjoy all of these classic bands not because they're melodic or pleasant, but because they don't sound like they just picked up their instruments for the first time the day prior to entering the studio.  I don't give a fuck how "creative" or "avant garde" or "outside the box" this album is, the bottom line is that the opening riff to the title track sounds fucking terrible.  That's not even first year guitar player level of skill, that's not even first day.  That is somebody picking up their buddy's guitar when he leaves the room for a second and just wailing away on it without having a clue what he's doing.  Every last riff sounds like this, they all sound like dissonant smashing and random bends with no real thought put behind them other than "Does this sound like shit?  Yeah?  Perfect!".  The percussion section is equally nonsensical; complementing nothing by blasting at seemingly inopportune times, goofing around with bizarre jazz sensibilites, and just seemingly playing the entire album as a free time jazz exercise as opposed to anything even remotely structured.

And you know what?  Maybe that's the real problem I have with the album.  Maybe it's my distaste of intentionally structureless jazz that draws me away from it.  Let me ponder that for a bit...

Oh, no wait, my mistake, that's absolute bullshit.  It's not just the fact that the structure is bizarre or jazzy, it's that it isn't there at all, and as a result nothing sticks with you other than "Clouded", and that's solely because it stands out for being much slower than the rest of the album and a whopping ten goddamn minutes long.  The songs all waft in and out of consciousness between epileptic fits of chaotic nonsense, noodling around with strange, dissonant wonkiness and grating harmonics for the better part of an hour, boring itself into your skull like an iron mosquito (note to self: pitch Iron Mosquito to Capcom for new Mega Man X game).  Other than that one track, nothing else is memorable for any reason other than the fact that it sounds like a chalkboard grinding its teeth.  This is seriously the most irritating music I've ever listened to, and this is taking into account shit like Neoandertals, Enmity, and that one random Buckethead impression that my buddy recorded that I post all the time.  I listen to albums while I review them, and this has taken me a month to write this far simply because Obscura gives me such a cataclysmic headache.  I know that saying any particular piece of music is "random" or "has no structure at all" and things of that sort almost always implies that the reviewer doesn't know what he/she's talking about and just can't fathom something unconventional, and I know how silly I must sound saying those same things about this album.  Obviously it isn't random, Gorguts can perform these songs live, they were very deliberately written, but they suuuuuuuck.

Another thing I really need to get across is Luc Lemay's vocals.  They are just... oh man, otherworldly bad.  Strangely enough, on one hand, I feel like they fit the music perfectly, as they're really tortured and chaotic sounding, like there's absolutely no skill as a death metal vocalist present and he's just yelling at the top of his lungs.  I'm not just saying that because I feel like there's zero skill involved in the instrumentals either (though that does also apply), but I feel like this style could work if the music was better, because it fits with the chaotic dissonance that the music revels in.  Agonized howling like this works well with certain torture doom bands like Senthil who go for a similar atmosphere, but with an album so chock full of irritation like this, it's merely another pin in my back.  It's all so non-stop and abrasive, and it works in all the wrong ways.  He howls like a guy making fun of death metal, and the guitars just hammer away and impossibly dissonant and wretched sounding chords and seemingly randomly placed harmonic squeals, and the drums sound like they're being performed by an eight year old who is just having the time of his life hitting everything he can.  This is a death metal version of The Shaggs, it sounds like a parody, and I will never understand how it attained such cult status for its "avant garde genius".

Honestly, Obscura will forever blow my mind.  This must be how death metal sounds to people who hate death metal.  And hell, even if I look at it from a different perspective, it doesn't help it.  Let's not view it as death metal, but instead prog metal or avant garde, either way it sounds like crap.  The music sounds bad, the guitars sound like a first grader just strumming and sliding his fingers up and down the neck, and the vocals are almost hilariously inept.  This bewilders me because I've actually since gone back and listened to some of the band's older material (which I'd avoided for years because this album pisses me off so much), and they're a perfectly capable band.  It's not like they're a bunch of Wesley Willis types that people latch on to for novelty (or just because they're so passionate about what they do that it's hard not to like), nor are they something like the aforementioned Shaggs or Complete where they are so transcendentally inept that they get dug up years later and passed around the internet for shiggles.  They wrote some solid death metal back in the day, and then around 1998 apparently decided to go a different direction.  That direction was downwards

Part of me can almost appreciate what Gorguts is going for here, I can tell they're trying to do something very different, they're trying to be much more dissonant than anything before them.  They're going for some kind of weird, avant garde style insanity.  Hell, maybe they're trying to tap into the musical representation of insanity itself.  It's possible, but it doesn't change the fact that at the end of the day, the product presented to us sounds like absolute horsedick.  There is not one single aspect of Obscura that I can give praise to.  It's a haphazard mess of seemingly intentionally irritating parts thrown together with apparently no regard for the interconnecting parts nor the big picture.  The high pitched slides and squeals contrast with the dissonant banging in the same way a knifewound to the gut contrasts with a hatchet to the cranium.  The vocals are one dimensional yowls and shrieks and simply add another layer of needless frustration onto an already compounded pile of headache fuel.  How this ever became a cult classic is beyond me, because it sound like if I had just picked up instruments I'd never played before and wailed on them without any real idea how they worked.  And it's weird because it's deliberate.  It sounds like cacophonous shit on purpose, and that somehow makes it a brilliant masterpiece.

I didn't expect to give this a zero when I started writing, I really didn't.  I expected a single digit score, yes, but not a zero.  The more I listened, the worse it got.  It just gets more irritating with repeated listens, and the layers peel away not to reveal hidden genius, but simply different frequencies of irritation I hadn't noticed before.  There's nothing here to like, this is the absolute nadir of musicality.  I don't care how expertly this was written, I don't care how deliberate and complex it is.  Frankly, it sounds awful, goes on for far too long, and has nothing enjoyable to be found.  You want weird, late 90s death metal?  Listen to Starseed, otherwise hop off this album's dick and stop trying to find beauty inside the asshole of Shub Niggurath.



  1. Holy fuck, your amount of stupidity is extremely high. If you can't see why this album is amazing, stop doing reviews, please.

    1. This just in, BastardHead is retiring. Thanks for showing me the light.

  2. It's not really that dissonant; there are actually some catchy moments in the albums.

    What do you think of From Wisdom To Hate?

    1. Something can be both dissonant and catchy (take the aforementioned SikTh for example), so they're not exactly mutually exclusive qualities. I've heard lots of people call this catchy since I've published this, but I still can't hear it.

      As for FWtH, I've only heard one song from it, and it's the same idea as Obscura but much less obnoxious, so I'm sure I'd probably enjoy it more.

  3. Bastardhead, people's brains are wired differently. Sometimes you might not be able to pick out the riffs amongst the mess or notice any musical patterns while other do quite easily and vice versa. But if you beat it to your head you'll eventually get it.

    Try looking up 8 bit obscura videos on youtube, then relisten the originals and see if your mind is changed. Here's one.

  4. I disagree with practically every point you make here. But I wanted to come to this nearly two year old review to thank you for introducing me to Starseed. They are awesome. To me, it's as if Nocturnus in some alternate universe all sat down and thought, "You know, that Suffocation band is pretty damn sick..."

  5. Hahahah this album is so retarded and wanky. I support your crushing review.

  6. (Wow, old review much)

    I ain't commenting on your opinion on this album, but honesty, nothing could be worse than Enmity.

  7. I understand somebody not liking something but it's pretty not-cool to insult something for that reason along with insulting people who DO like it. The comparison to The Shaggs is terribly innacurate - the usual comparison is Captain Beefheart's Trout Mask Replica which is another record that some seem to hate to the point of insulting the performers as well as the fans of it, insisting people only "pretend" to like it. Do people actually DO that? Any favorite bands of mine that people claim such things about are all bands I legitimately enjoy and listen to regularly. What about the opposite - do people "pretend" to not like things? Seems like that would make just as much sense!