One of the greatest aspects about modern progressive metal is just how varied it is. Isn’t it obvious by now that great musicians no longer feel the need to confine themselves to expectations of what a metal band is “supposed” to be? So many modern musicians have classical and/or jazz training along with a widely varying palette of influences from all across the musical spectrum from rock to fusion, progressive music, ethnic sounds, folk, classical, whatever! As a listener, I’ve always been a bit schizo and once created a travel playlist with John Coltrane, Stravinsky, The Beatles, Tool and Laura Nyro among others. I enjoyed the heck out of it and I know that a lot of great progressive metal bands have widely varying tastes as well.
Enter the Australian band, Ne Obliviscaris (Latin for “Do Not Forget”) and their first full-length shot across the progressive music spectrum “Portal of I” – and what an album it is! A powerful and intense cross-breeding of the acoustic/progressive death metal hybrid style most likely initiated by Opeth and a huge array of influences from folk, classical, jazz, flamenco and western art music. The band has a very unique instrumentation – two guitars and violin along with bass, drums and both black metal and clean vocal styles. The band was formed in 2003, released an E.P. in 2007 (the highly acclaimed “The Aurora Veil”) and now, six years later we have “Portal Of I.” The song titles alone, “Tapestry of the Starless Abstract”, “And Plague Flowers The Kaleidoscope” and the astonishingly beautiful “Of Petrichor Weaves The Black Noise” should tell you that you’re not in for a shallow experience.
There is so much to recommend in this album but to start the band has a base of intense progressive, somewhat melancholic metal with black metal vocals but will often take it down a hundred notches to long stretches of beautiful acoustic guitar and violin sections that show how varied the band can be. The violinist, Tim Charles is fantastic and has the best use of violin in heavy music that I’ve heard since David Cross was doing his thing with King Crimson in the early-mid 70’s. Usually when a band wants to increase its intensity, it’ll turn up the volume but with Ne Obliviscaris, the violin is used for those quiet introspective moments that the band does so well as well as for some of the heaviest things they can pull off.
All of the songs are great but I have to point out the opening and closing ones in particular as they’re a good illustration of what this band is best able to do – mix the heavy and soft aspects of music so well. The 12-minute opener, “Tapestry Of The Starless Abstract” (nod to Crimson?) starts with a progressive black metal intro reminiscent of Agalloch but then about 4 ½ minutes in we find ourselves in a beautiful classical acoustic place – again contrasting the heavy with the soft but in keeping with the intense melancholy of the piece. The album closes appropriately with an absolutely breathtaking Gregorian-like vocal and violin outro on the sublime “Petrichor”. I am a bit saddened that a hint of “death” vocals will turn some off to this record, but if you can get beyond that you’re in for a wonderful ride and an album that could very well end up being the best album of 2012.
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