Ne Obliviscaris - “Portal of I” 13/20
46th place album of the year 2012
Of the many metal album of the year lists I have studied in order to diversify mine, Ne Obliviscaris’ “Portal Of I” seems to be one of the common factors in many. The album, which took all of 8 years to come to life, is 72 minutes of layered, complex, and sometimes quite beautiful progressive black metal. The exact genre of this work is debatable, with elements taken from both death and symphonic metal, and various bluegrass and classical influences on Tim Charles’ violin parts.
I discovered NeO after a recent series of concerts in Australia, aptly named “Progfest”. Due to the mediocrity of the New Zealand music scene and the non-existence of the New Zealand progressive music scene, I have recently turned my focus to these Australian bands, with hope they will bring this festival over the ditch one day. This has also led me discover other great Australian bands such as Be’lakor, and especially Chaos Divine (whose shirt I am actually wearing as I type). I later come to discover that one of the faces behind this festival, and its promotion company, Welkin, is Ne Obliviscaris vocalist and violinist Tim Charles. He really deserves all the congratulations he can get.
Portal of I consists of only 7 tracks in its 72-minute lifespan, with all but one falling over the 9 minute mark, and in their field of melodic extreme metal, it immediately brings Opeth into mind. Thoughts of Akerfeldt and his men come back throughout the record, with many of the tracks following the same song structures Opeth utilise, along with a couple of riffs (a certain one in “Forget Not” comes to mind) taken directly from the Opeth book of slides and slides and occasionally palm muting. I am not entirely familiar with the black metal genre, but the parts I understand from that scene hear are the use of ‘shrieked’ vocals (as opposed to growled) and excessive double-kick drumming. I have to admit, these are two of the weaker aspects of this album, and like with this year’s other melodic black metal release (Enslaved’s “RIITIIR”), I feel the album could be stronger without, but at times it definitely works with the mood.
Like with Opeth, and other black metal bands, the metal side of the music is less solo and riff-based, and more focused on the atmosphere, but when they do break out a decent riff, it is quite memorable (the opener of “Xenoflux” and about 7 minutes into “And Plague Flowers The Kaleidoscope” come to mind). Continuing with the focus on atmosphere, NeO often break from the pummeling of the black metal drumming to acoustic instrumental passages, again reminding of Opeth, but with more use of violin, and often all 5 instrumentalists join in without it being cluttered, to create a very ambient, almost post-rock atmosphere. These are very relaxing, especially the break in the opener “Tapestry of the Starless Abstract”, which relies on relaxed fingerpicked chords with violin solo, you become almost lost in the music.
Despite the very nice effect both the clean vocals and violin have on the music, at times the parts seem like more of an afterthought, wavering over the heavy music, rather than flowing within it. This is especially evident during “Of The Leper Butterflies”, and the last few minutes of “Tapestry of the Starless Abstract”, especially with Xenoyr’s growling underneath, often the listener is bombarded with far too many things to focus on.
I was thinking about going through this album track-by-track, but it would be over 1000 words long, and I would end up repeating myself. So I’m just going to focus on one track here. The best, the most important, and the title track. Although there aren’t any title tracks as you can see, the phrase “Ne Obliviscaris” is latin, and often used as a motto (most famously for Scottish clan Campbell), translates roughly to “Forget Not”. “Forget Not” is also a unique name for a track, because it’s the only one on the album that doesn’t have an insanely badass name (“Of Petrichor Weaves Black Noise” is probably my favourite song title of all time). It is also the longest (tied with “Tapestry…”), so the band obviously wanted it to be the ‘centrepiece’, and with a 6.5-minute instrumental intro, it really does stand out.
The intro to Forget Not is the best part of the album, and one of my favourite pieces of music released this year. It focuses primarily on the violin, with all the other instruments falling around it, unlike many times in the album, where the violin feels added on the top. Tim Charles gets some of his best runs on the violin here, and the entire atmosphere of the music is incredibly relaxed. It slowly builds up to the black metal drumming and the best riff of the album. Stolen straight from the Opeth book, I honestly couldn’t care. After 5 minutes and 57 seconds of build up, that slide riff is what sells this album for you. If you didn’t want to buy it after that, you can’t hear right.
And that’s not it. Less than half of the song completed, “Forget Not” now goes into metal mode, but it is still as melodic as ever, but this time it’s Tim Charles’ vocals in the focus, with Xenoyr’s growls crunching underneath. The thundering climax of the song showcases some of Charles’ best vocal work.
A masterpiece of how to build a song, and have every piece of the build up pay of with the combination of the Opeth riff and Tim Charles’ wonderful tenor. The return of the violin at the end, this time soaring over the top of an epic black metal part is truly wonderful. This is the part when you really need to have the bass down a bit, because otherwise you’ll miss it. This is a song I think everyone should hear. No matter your opinion on black metal, this is a masterpiece of music.
This review has been rather positive, and I’m sure anyone (no one?) who has read the whole thing is wondering how it reflects my rating of 13/20. This is just my opinion of it, because I dislike growls and the black metal drumming. Both of these dislikes are petty, but it does affect my lists and rankings. However, I feel every time I listen to this, it should be higher, and in time I’m sure it will move up. Like with any über-complex album, the more you listen, the more you hear and understand, and the more beautiful it becomes.
How many times have I played this album: 10 Will I play it again after this: Yes. Plenty of times. And that, I think, is the sign of a great album, regardless about what my ranking gives it.
Originally posted on my facebook page/blog http://www.facebook.com/neoprogisbestprog