"The Journey is long and the path is pathless and one has to be alone.
There is no map and no one to guide.
But there is no alternative.
One cannot escape it, one cannot evade it.
One has to go on the journey.
The goal seems impossible but the urge to go on is intrinsic.
The need is deep in the soul"
- Osho Rajneesh
1998 was a weird year for metal. On the one side, you had old bands like Slayer and Sepultura trying to accommodate their own sound to the rise of nu metal, while on the other, you have a rise of brilliant bands such as System of a Down. Technical death metal was falling apart at that very moment due to the fact that major record labels pushed grunge and aforementioned nu metal bands. Thrash and death metal bands were either buried and forgotten, or tried to follow up trends of the 90s, leaving thrash/death roots aside. However, some metal bands were loyal to their roots, hence the albums like Nile’s Amongs the Catacombs of Nephren-Ka, Death’s The Sound of Perseverance, Cryptopsy’s Whisper Supremacy, Cannibal Corpse’s Gallery of Suicide etc. Some of the most innovative albums of that year were System of a Down’s debut album, Meshuggah’s Chaosphere, and the one and only, Gorguts’ Obscura.
Obscura is one of those hard-to-swallow albums that creates tectonic disorders, black holes, tsunamis etc. at the first listen. The history of this album is so mystical and yet so profound. Not many people are even aware about the greatness of this state-of-the-art sonic monster. The history of Obscura takes us way back to the year of 1993. Gorguts have just released their second album, The Erosion of Sanity and were looking for a new guitarist for their upcoming European tour. The new axeman was none other than the legendary Big Steeve Hurdle who wasn’t satisfied with his own band Purulence and was asked to join Gorguts for good, which he did. (you can read our tribute to Big Steeve here). Classic Gorguts lineup featured Luc Lemay on vox & guitars, and 3 Steves – Steeve Hurdle on guitars, Steve Cloutier on bass and Steve MacDonald on drums (RIP).
As soon as the band got its new lineup, Gorguts started working on new material. Their musical vision at the time was far beyond borders of a typical death metal – they cast aside all clichés and were looking into uncharted territory. In an interview with Luc Lemay, I asked him who was behind the idea that Gorguts should undergo a more noisy, contrapunctal and dissonant sounding direction, he stated: "We all did. We deliberately approach our instrument in a way that was ANTI traditional metal playing. We each agreed that neither fast picking riffs nor power chords would be accepted in the music. So by insisting on those restrictions, we were forced to come up with a new musical language." What I find remarkable about this album is the fact that every riff has intricate & elaborated drumming patterns attached to it.
It may not be known to many that the actual Obscura album was finished between 1993 and the fall of 1994 which clearly shows that this album was really ahead of its time, even in 1998 when it came out. Some of the songs were a bit different during the demo phase. You can actually hear how the songs like Rapturous Grief and La Vie est Prelude…La Mort,…Orgasme sounded like during the 1993 rehearsals with Steve MacDonald on the drums. Rapturous Grief is way slower, isn’t it? During the creative process the rule of the day was that if somebody brought a new riff to a rehearsal, other bandmembers shouldn’t look at each other’s guitar necks. First off, the band demoed 5 songs, and then another 5 and nobody wanted to sign them because the material was „too weird or fucked up.“ in 1995, the band moved to Montreal. You can actually see some songs from Obscura being played live while opening for Death show. Pretty amazing footage, eh? "That was a great show for us! I t was a single show at the Montréal SPECTRUM (which doesn’t exist anymore). If my mind is right we got asked to play the show like a day before or something also I think it was the first time for us that we performed music from OBSCURA live in Montréal. Then a month later we moved the band to Montréal. It was a great evening, getting to talk with Chuck and Gene. Great memories!" – says Lemay.
When asked how much did Steeve Hurdle contribute to the Obscura album music-wise, Gorguts frontman stated: "Guitar wise he always wanted to push the limits further, which he succeeded very well for that. He would always look for new sounds and textures on guitar." Steeve Hurdle also contributed to the lyrical themes of “duality between flesh and soul,” mostly because of his fascination with Hinduism and Budhism and especially the philosophy of the Indian guru Osho Rajneesh: “Steeve was a very curious, sensible and creative person. He is the one that brought the concept for OBSCURA since he was very much into Osho’s books back then” recalls Lemay. When asked about the lyrics on the album, Luc Lemay said: “Steeve would bring the theme and we would agree on who is gonna sing where then we would each write our lyrics without showing our ideas one to the other. Then once the song finished, we would put both of our lyrics together and it was like one person wrote the whole thing” Obscura may be seen like concept album which deals with suksuma sharira – the subtle body in Hinduism’s three body philosophy. Subtle body is composed of mind, intelligence and ego which controls the gross physical body. Lyrics also deal with transcendence of soul & reincarnation. When I discovered this album, I was convinced that this man-bear-pig looking guy on the album cover was Steeve Hurdle himself, but that turned out to be not true at all! Well, if you are looking for an answer about that, I suggest you read the liner notes or watch our interview with Luc Lemay in the link down below! I won’t spoil my readers n’ stuff!
However, with no album out for 4 years, the band’s morale started going down. Steve MacDonald left the band in 96’ due to the fact that no record label wanted to sign Gorguts at the time. Finally, he was replaced with Patrick Robert, and in the summer of 1997, the band entered the Studio Victor in Montreal, Canada. In an interview for Agoraphobic News, Patrick stated: " I played in a Sepultura cover band before that. We also played some Napalm Death (Fear, Emptiness and Despair integral), Cannibal Corpse, Deicide and some compos me and the main guitar player did (I wrote the lyrics in the 1st tune cuz the singer was clueless). After that band, I was kind of depressed so I started checking ads in the paper. I didn’t really know anybody who played metal but then I found an ad in the paper that Gorguts were looking for a drummer. I always though it was an American band cuz I only knew 1 tune from them! Surprise, they live in my city. So I called them up and met with them. We went to the rehearsal place and I just started playing some stuff not metal related. They asked me to play some blastbeats and then I remember them giggling and they said I was hired. I guess they liked the fact that I could play some fusion type of drumming and other stuff. After that, I remember we went back to their place and they played some crappy sound rehearsal on tape which was Obscura. I wasn’t expecting something like that. I was really excited to learn that crazy stuff!"
Patrick also revealed to us how the material sounded before he came into picture: "It’s not 100% the same. I had a pre-prod with some of the tunes and a shitty rehearsal tape with the rest. I had to decipher it. So there are some differences in what I do. For example, in Rapturous Grief, I think around the 3:15 mark (I checked to make sure), I play this double-strokes pattern between the ride and snare with the double-bass going on under. The original from Steve was the same blast beat throughout the section. In the 1st riff of Obscura, most of the crash cymbals are actually right-hand chokes. You don’t hear it much but that’s what I was doing. They are a lot more like tom patterns that follow the guitars like in The Art of Sombre Ecstasy. Just watch any live from Gorguts with Steve and you’ll see the differences. I mainly embellished them. I also played the tunes faster. I though they were the right tempo but when I met Steve M after I was out of the band, he said they were faster so he had to speed them up! I was like what??? I though they were the right tempo. That’s when I figured out that the rehearsal tape was playing faster in my tape machine. Lol! He also recalls working with producer Pierre Remillard (who played the guitar in a Canadian cult thrash metal band Obliveon): He was very patient with me and did a lot jokes. He use to call me Cyber Pat or Billy as in Billy Crystal cuz of my curly hair. Lol. He called me Billy live once and I could hear fans yelling that to me in the crowd. hahaha! The only thing I didn’t like was the drum sound on the finished product. You don’t hear the cymbals sometimes. I also used triggers on the bassdrums which I didn’t want but it was the norm. I have nothing against triggers but I wanted raw sound with no embellishement. Basically I had zero control over my sound in general!"
Funny enough, Obscura is an album that not many people can digest, especially at the first listen. My experience with it was like this: I was really digging first two albums and then I came across with Obscura. The moment I heard the first song I was like “WTF?” I just couldn’t comprehend it at all! My brain just couldn’t process the whole thing! I even got a headache from listening to this album, literally. But as stubborn as I am, I just kept listening to it and little by little fell in love with it. In an interview I did with Kevin Hufnagel, present day guitarist of Gorguts & Dysrhythmia he recalled that Obscura was looked upon just like this weird sounding album with a lot of bad press, and that kind of reminds me of what happened to Cynic’s Focus when it came out. “I remember vividly the day I first heard it. I read some negatives reviews of it, but those only made me want to hear it more. I was working at a record store at the time and ordered a few copies for the store, and one for myself. I saw seriously blown back when I first pressed play“says Kevin. I also asked Patrick Robert about the reputation of Obscura when it came out: „Well a lot of people didn’t really understand it at first. I’ve heard some come up to me and they said the riffs were small riffs within riffs or something. It’s much simpler than that in my head. It’s just long riffs and there are no more than 5-6 per tunes. Comments were really good in general though”
Now, let’s get on with the songs themselves. Self-titled song is one of the last to be written for this album along with Nostalgia. Obscura song has this crazy opening riff while the drumming is so intense, it sounds like beetle swarm. And yeah, the tapping riff sounds like Human Remains’ paraplegic polka riffs in Weeding out the Thorns (at 1:16) or throughout the song Human. Earthly Love is one of the heaviest. Steeve Hurdle’s and Luc Lemay’s alternating vocal attack leave none indifferent. The breakdown riff in Earthly Love combined with Pat’s intricate drumming is one of the heaviest moments on this album! In the middle of this tune you can hear Luc Lemay’s viola solo which is pretty unusual for death metal, right? The Carnal State starts with Steve Cloutier’s bass pounding and screeching perverse-sounding guitar riffs. Pat’s drumming patterns in this one are perfectly conjoined with the music! Nostalgia is by far the simplest and grooviest song on the album.! Steve Cloutier’s bass sound really adds a hypnotic feel to this song! These beautiful melodies are all of a sudden interrupted by crushing calm-before-the-storm noisy palm-muting riff and then Nostalgia transforms into a groovy oriented tune with probably one of the heaviest breakdowns in metal. Oddly enough, this song along with Obscura was written last. The Art of Sombre Ecstacy is probably one of the fastest songs, especially when it comes to the godlike over-the-top drumming. The whole songs sounds like tsunamis and avalanches crushing everything they touch. Pinch harmonic breakdown and Hurdle’s guitar molesting along with tons of wah-wah effects really add unique flavour to this song. And yeah, Luc Lemay and Steeve Hurdle sound like a twin-headed beast in this one! Clouded is a 9 minute long song that stands between two parts of this album. It is by far the slowest on Obscura. Even the biggest drone bands like Sunn O))) would envy for the heaviness of this gigantic sonic titan. It literally sounds like Chtulu going for some first steps after a deep sleep!
I couldn’t resist and ask Luc Lemay whether he played this song live in its entirety, and he said that he stopped doing that because the crowd would become dead after a couple of minutes. However, Clouded is a really complex song, especially when it comes to tricky time signatures. Gotta give the boys credit for memorizing all these changes! And yeah, Steeve Hurdle outdone himself when it comes to these raspy screams that sound as if he absorbed all the pain and suffering of this world onto himself. All these pinch harmonics in the middle of the song remind us how well they can be used and should be used as a reminder for lame nu metal & metalcore bands. Subtle Body is like a fresh new start on this record! Steve Clouiter’s bass lines are almost having a leading role in this song! I just can’t get enough of that hammering bass sound! Steeve Hurdle yet again delivered one of the many wah-wah solos but this one is probably the finest! And yeah, the slower part of the song is absolutely amazing!
Rapturous Grief is the very first song that Gorguts have written for Obscura. It is simple,but still crushing tune! That main riff sounds like moving snake of some sorts. This tune gets more and more intense and then all of the sudden it gets slowed down while the riffs become more noisy as well! La Vie est prelude... La Mort, orgasme! is by far one of the greatest tracks from Obscura. It is so damn heavy! And Steeve Hurdle’s opening scream is just unbelieveble! Not to mention how great these lyrics are! And how cool is that when Luc says PROGRESSING INTO THE REALM OF BLISSFUL IMMORTALITY! And these crazy riffs that follow with all these twists and turns...Breathtaking! The singing riff even hass some jazzy feel to it. Illuminatus is another striking one! And it sounds like black hole sucking ppl in! This is another tune where Luc Lemay and Steeve Hurdle are delivering some of the sickest screams and riffs! It’s also really cool to note how the slower and simplistic the riffs are, the more intense the drumming is! And yeahhh! Faceless Ones is definitely one of the most brutal tracks of Obscura. All these blastbeats and screeching riffs will really make you faceless! The last track on this album is an instrumental one – Sweet Silence. It is the only song on Obscura to feature acoustic guitars. That innovation is really refreshing, especially if one has in mind 1 hour of noise, dissonance, growls and blastbeats throughout the whole album. However, it also has some of the most dissonant riffs on the whle album! The song ends with fading & creepy noise pattern.
Gorguts’ Obscura is one of the most revolutionary, innovative & influential death metal albums of all time. You may call it technical, or avant-garde but I really think it deserves to be remembered as the very first dissonant death metal album that had to wait for almost 5 years (from 1994-1998) to be released. Obscura was turning point for Gorguts who got rid of all the technical death metal clichés of the 90s. This is by far one of the most intense metal albums of all time which casts you away from your comfort zone every time you play it. The album is fresh sounding 20 years later thanks to Pierre Remillard’s masterful work as a producer. Sadly, Steeve Hurdle and Steve MacDonald have both died (may they rest in peace!) However, their musical legacy on Obscura will outlive us all! This album had a huge impact on new generation of bands such as Deathspell Omega, Ulcerate Gigan, Pyrrhon, Baring Teeth, Artificial Brain, Nero Di Marte, Teramobil, Sunless and whole bunch of others who are bowing at the altar of dissonance. Gorguts’ Obscura is an album worthy of praise with a reason. Many of us lost our eardrum virginity while listening to it. It gives you an obscure feeling of immensity with every listen. And we crave for more! Besides, this album is a reminder for how pop death metal bands should actually sound like. It is no exaggeration to say that Gorguts’ Obscura has turned the whole death metal world upside-down and that it gave a whole new face to this subgenre. And yeah, this album is taken off from youtube (because it's too goddamn heavy!)
We asked some of the bands who are digging Obscura album to make a statement about it.
Kevin Hufnagel (Gorguts, Dysrhythmia):
"I remember first hearing about Obscura through a negative review I read. Sometimes you just know a record is going to be great when it really pisses off the traditionalist. I worked at HMV Records when it came out and ordered many copies for the store. I pushed it on anyone into strange music that came into the store. For me as a guitarist, it was enormously inspiring. It was right when I was forming Dysrhythmia that I heard this album, and its' influence has always been there. Before Colin and I joined the band much later, we had parts in Dysrhyrhmia songs we'd call "the Gorguts part"."
Derek Boyer (Suffocation):
I would say the Gorguts album Obscura (1998 I believe) was ahead of its time and also broke the mold of traditional death metal. Luc Lemay had a new band of musicians for this record also, having the previous 2 albums featuring a completely different lineup. Obscura was one of those records that you had to listen to over and over to find the true essence of the record, as new musical gems would appear with each listen! I’m actually over due for a listen of this record!!!! In conclusion, I would say Luc is a genius! I love his work, and he is a fantastic human!!!!!
Mike DiSalvo (Coma Cluster Void, Ex-Crytpopsy):
"So, you may ask what more can be said about the infinitely groundbreaking, mega-important monolith that Obscura was and is? Turns out, every forward thinking metal head that proved his weight in gold has some kind of unflinching memory or pivotal moment that this genre defining album had brought to them. Hell, I have had so many of those reflections I am not sure where to begin. How about here... I had been a huge fan of Gorguts even before Considered Dead. They were so different, yet so familiar. Brilliant and crazy enough to be just that. Luc's voice was one that epitomized death metal and still does. There is just so much conviction in his approach and arrangements and he has always been so experimental, well rounded and goddamn professional. I loved what he was doing both vocally and musically well before I met him. A pioneer. I digress. Fast forward years later. Pre-recording of Obscura. Gorguts jam room in Montreal. Dingy, dark, awesome. I got to know the guys while I was in Cryptopsy and they invited me down to watch them practice. I could hardly believe my great fortune.To hear them blast out the whole album before they recorded it, plus a few old classics thrown in...yeah, that was cool. Tight wasn't even a word for them. Infallible perhaps rung the bell. They were perfect. One of a kind. If I remember correctly, both our albums (Cryptopsy's Whisper Supremacy & Obscura) came out around the same time. I had initially heard the album from the great Pierre Remillard who had engineered both our records. I knew Obscura was going to be that record people would talk about for years to come. In fact it has. I wonder if the guys knew what they had on their hands...what came from their minds. We ended up touring with them twice through the States on those records, driving in an Econoline together for 70 shows or so. I got to know them well and learned from their incredible work ethic and drive. They were total pros and all I wanted to do was to try and emulate them. They were a well oiled machine and I got to watch them every single show. I never missed their set. Ever. They tore that album to smithereens each and every night and built it all back up again for the next show. Fuck were they good! My favorite track has always been Nostalgia. On the record it's wonderful...but live? Few others match it in my opinion. A fitting title when I often think about my good friends Steeve Hurdle and Steve "Death" MacDonald. I miss them. Sure I could've written yet another tired post reflection or stale review of one of the greatest, purposeful records in avant-garde death metal or I could simply share an inside scoop on my relationships and occurrences with the band circa Obscura. I thought it may be more fun to offer a peek in to a truly incredible time in my life and a most welcomed experience with one of the grand giants of metal and their record that tilted the tech death world on its axis. Gorguts. Obscura. Forever."
Eric Hersemann (Gigan):
"Obscura meant quite a bit to me on a couple of levels. Firstly, I was/am a fan of Gorguts since the beginning and loved the demo stuff and first two records as they all were released. Being from Chicago, I was fortunate to see Gorguts live many times throughout their existence and that includes the performances after “Erosion of Sanity” was released and before “Obscura” came out. Seeing the “Obscura” material live before the record was released was even more amazing than what I was used to seeing from Luc and his crew up until then and that line up will always be an all time favorite of mine. My band was even able to play with Gorguts at the House of Blues in Chicago for the only USA show supporting “From Wisdom To Hate” but those “Obscura” shows are still my favorite! That music and those performances were incredibly special and will forever be a highlight in my “metal journey”.
Secondly, I was the publicist at Olympic Records and we released both “Obscura” and “From Wisdom To Hate” originally, so I was the publicist for both of those records as well as all the other Olympic releases at that time. The response and reaction to “Obscura” was a lot different then than than now, I can assure you! I had a VERY difficult time getting any press for that record anywhere and had to call in many favors just to get reviews in magazines at all. My good friend Jeff Wagner (who was the editor of Metal Maniacs and later Decibel magazine) was one of the few that actually understood how important that record was at the time and helped us out by featuring a review of the album in Metal Maniacs that was almost a full page! I kept hearing the same thing over and over...”what is this?”, “this is not death metal” and “what happened to Gorguts???”. Our standard response at the label to these comments was “well, I guess it’s just to heavy for you”. If it wasn’t for the label owner; Martti Payne, that album might never have been released with major distribution but he always believed in it and in Luc’s vision. I always loved the record and knew it was special; it had elements that were so unique but at the same time so dark, heavy and thought provoking. It really was “thinking man’s” death metal and it’s longevity proves that. I have always been inspired by that album and Luc’s dedication to his own vision above all else; even when the critics and naysayers told him that what he was doing was too “weird”. GIGAN has always operated under that same premise; that being, to follow your passion and only be limited by your own imagination and vision for the future.
“Obscura” is common knowledge now and I’m thankful for that and I’m thankful that Luc stayed true to himself all these years and has finally received the attention and admiration that “Obscura” has always deserved."
Lucas Scott (Sunless):
"I first heard Obscura in middle school and had absolutely no idea how to take it in. At that point I was mostly listening to bands like Kreator, Sadus, and Death so the dissonance and rhythmic focus of the guitar was jarring. I had to come back to it a couple years later to really grasp it. As a guitarist it challenged how I thought about "the riff" and composition. There are so many unconventional techniques on Obscura and Gorguts' attention to detail is astounding. How they pulled off this dense and effective of a record is truly inspiring."
Miguel Valade (ex-Negativa, Tumbleweed Dealer):
"They revolutionize the way of playing metal with unusual textures & time signatures. It was very audacious for this time. This album had a huge influence on my playing but the most important is that as a Quebecian, Gorguts prove to our people that our music has values & can be exported internationaly. It was very motivating !!! After 20 years I still listen to this album at least once a week!!!! NOSTALGIA !!!"
Pierre Remillard (ex-Obliveon):
"Unique and ,unpredictable expérience !Timeless music ."
Cloud Leduc (Chte'ilist):
"Well I guess my story with that album is pretty typical. I first Obscura when I was 15 but it took a while before I really understood what kind of beast it was. What I owe to Obscura is the idea that melody and harmony are not necessarily limited to pitch or actual notes. It's hard to imagine seeing your guitar the same way after spending a bit of time trying to figure out what's going on in that album!"
Mathieu Berube (Teramobil):
I was going to write a super nice and well written paragraph on how it affected my writing and perception of music... but you know what.. after a long reflection, Obscura thought me that there are no limits to what you can do when you write music... That’s the beauty of the freedom of music!
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