The Pitch: Australian extreme progressive metal act Ne Obliviscaris have followed up their breakout album, Citadel, with a new release via Season of Mist. FFO: Winterhorde, Inverted Serenity, Demonic Resurrection
What I Like: I recall when Citadel dropped and I was among the few that were unimpressed and confused by the hype. It was hardly the first time I had heard a progressive band with a violinist, yet in that moment Ne Obliviscaris had really tapped into a huge market of new fans. While I didn't hate the album, I found it to be disjointed, lacking focus, and particularly muddy when it came to production. This was a band still searching for its sound.
Fast forward a few years and add the additional support of Season of Mist and I found myself interested to see if matters have improved for Ne Obliviscaris. The answer to that question is largely yes. Urn shows the band making massive strides in all departments that had previously turned me away. First of all, the production on this album is stunning. Befitting of the band's lofty ambitions, the recording space feels vast and filled with a certain organic ambience; it's as if it was recorded outdoors on some windswept moor. No longer do the instruments feel densely and clumsily mixed. From the aforementioned (beautiful) violin and clean vocals to the drums and guitars, everything has plenty of room to breathe in a balanced coexistence.
Furthermore, the songwriting and performances have vastly improved. There is a greater sense of flow and development as well as maturation in each musicians' playing skills. There is perhaps no greater illustration of these strides than with "Urn (Part I)." If I were to recommend a single track to summarize Ne Obliviscaris' mission statement, this would be the one. All of the band's trademark elements are found here in their zenith. We've got the heavy death vocals hitting full force along with some infectious Opethian guitar leads, top notch clean singing, always stunning work on the violin, and many commendable shifts in pacing and aesthetic led by the impressive drumming.
Critiques: None of this is to say that the band has maxed out their potential. I still have issues with the work as a whole, though not nearly as many as before. For one, while the clean vocals are quite lovely in terms of delivery, I'm not feeling their transitions to be as seemless as they should. The ebb and flow of light and dark energies isn't entirely fluid, and some of the melodies even fall short of being truly memorable. On a broader, but similar, note, a few of these tracks meander a bit. "Eyrie," at almost 12 minutes shows the band's capabilities in this area, but there are moments where I start to zone out. This is particularly true with "Intra Venus" and "Urn (Part 2)." In general, give me a little more focus and also attention to details that really grab me by the ear and stick in the memory. I should be humming more key moments long after I listen.
The Verdict: Ultimately Urn is a monumental step forwards for Ne Obliviscaris; one that bodes very well for their future. The band has matured quite a bit since Citadel, and given such a leap I am thrilled to hear what they will sound like in a few more years time. For now, I am planning to spend more time with this album and am happy to get solid prog in a year that has been kind of lacking outside of the death prog subgenre.
Flight's Fav's: Urn (Part I), Libera (Part I), Eyrie
-Review by FlightOfIcarus
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