I always loved how Australia’s Ne Obliviscaris describe their music in the “About” section of their Facebook page: “Progressive extreme melodic metal (with violin).” It’s a statement that is both bold and coy, and perfectly apt for a sound that slingshots between black/death metal ferocity and classically tinged progressive metal, often at the whims of the vocal dichotomy of frontmen Xenoyr – who delivers the abrasive screams and growls – and Tim Charles, who counters with serene, soaring cleans. He also plays the aforementioned violin – and is joined on several tracks by a second violinist and cellist to provide moments of chamber music-like ambiance.
The last couple years have been marked, not ironically, with significant highs and lows for Ne Obliviscaris. The band launched a successful crowd-funding campaign through Pantheon to finance several international tours and other business concerns that continues to today, all of which has significantly raised their profile. They have another North American tour slated to kick off Nov. 1. On the flip-side, there was the very public dismissal of bassist Brendan “Cygnus” Brown early this year amid allegations of domestic violence.
Undeterred, Ne Obliviscaris recruited ex-Cynic bassist Robin Zielhorst and got right to work with their third album Urn, a typically ambitious effort on which they haven’t really missed a step. Taking a somewhat similar approach to what they did with 2014’s Citadel, the front and back of Urn split single tracks into sections – in this case the two-part “Libera” that opens the album and the two-part title track the concludes it. In between are “Intra Venus” and the 12-minute “Eyrie,” giving Urn six songs overall that clock in at a hefty 46 minutes, or roughly eight minutes each.
The second half of “Libera,” a short acoustic guitar/violin interlude dubbed “Ascent of Burning Moths,” highlights the dramatic contrast that has always been the band’s modus operandi. It offers a couple minutes of relative calm following the epic roil of part one, “Saturnine Spheres,” with its blast-beat forays, tumultuous rhythms, fevered guitaring and Xenoyr and Charles’ Jekyll and Hyde vocal back and forth.
The melancholy, Dream Theater-like opening to “Eyrie” has much the same effect, with Charles singing and fiddling over a quiet wash of guitar before Xenoyr appears like Godzilla and the band storms off on a prog-death jaunt for the song’s eight remaining minutes. Elsewhere, though, the band fold these quieter moments in amid the chaos instead of separating them out, as on “Intra Venus” where violin sweeps are followed by black metally sprints.
Charles’ warbly cleans don’t work quite so well under more aggressive circumstances, as on the shrill, jagged “Urn (Part I) – And Within The Void We Are Breathless.” But his squealing violin is right at home, matching the careening guitars of Matt Klavins and Benjamin Baret there and on the counterpart, “Urn (Part II) – As Embers Dance In Our Eyes.” And it’s a testament to the band’s considerable skills and writers and players that there aren’t more uncomfortable moments here.
Indeed, the “progressive extreme melodic metal (with violin)” components on Urn meld rather seamlessly and play off of and with each other in such a way that rarely seems forced or unnatural, which provides the kind of flow something this epic really demands. And the wank factor here is surprisingly small. The sophisticated arrangements keep the band busy and engaged enough, minimizing the need for aimless jams or prolonged solos. Anything more would just be overkill.
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