Australia’s extreme progressive metal outfit Ne Obliviscaris embrace ambition. Brandishing technically challenging guitar riffery, elaborate song titles, and multi-movement musical affairs they certainly fit the “progressive” title. Developing their signature sound with aggressive and clean vocals and luminous violin work, however, gives them a unique edge against their math metal brethren. On Urn, their third full-length release, the band refines their sound with simple studio production style that emphasizes what they do live rather than belabor their songs through digital trickery.
Opening with clean guitars arpeggios and a subtle plucked violin, “Libera, Part I–Saturine Spheres” eases into its double kicks and distortion without any grandeur. It’s clean and precise, a refreshing diversion from overly-produced trends in modern metal. Tim Charles’ clean vocals add an epic power metal gravitas to the track, a bright contrast against the death metal growls from opposing singer Xenoyr.
Unsurprisingly, it shreds. The twin guitar attack of Matt Klavins and Benjamin Baret deliver smoldering riffs and sweeping solos like champs. The dynamic “Libera, Part II–Ascent of Burning Moths” is augmented with Charles’ violin playing, both in the heavier moments as well as quiet refrains featuring acoustic guitars. An instrumental affair of fingerpicked acoustic guitars and a melancholy violin solo, its subdued mood is more in line with folk metal than the thrash of its counterpart.
Urn’s lead single “Intra Venus” is another involved affair of violin and acoustic guitars, intricately textured but not overwrought. Syncopated riffs and breezy power chords complement the aggressive and clean vocals from Xenoyr and Charles, respectively. While the band can undeniably count their way through shifting rhythms, they never fall into bouts of self-indulgence. “Intra Venus” is a headbanger that prizes melody and texture along with distortion and mosh-worthy riffs.
Spanning nearly 12 minutes, “Eyrie” demonstrates how truly stunning a metal track can be. Over a third of the tune goes by without an ounce of distortion, built with moments that shine and only hint at Ne Obliviscaris’ metal nature with quasi-tribal drums. Charles’ violin shines throughout the tune, demonstrating how his somewhat un-metal is fundamental to the band’s sound, not simply a gimmick. It’s another stellar example of how Ne Obliviscaris care about the integrity of a song more so than mindless noodling and masturbatory riff worship.
The closing two-part “Urn” reflects Ne Obliviscaris’ extreme tendencies. “Part I–And Within the Void We Are Breathless” rages with flairs of black metal-inspired blast beats and discordant guitars. “Part II–As Embers Dance in Our Eyes” shreds, screams, and slays like death metal before soaring with melodies and vocal lines inspired by power metal. The stylistic back-and-forth works, feeling like a successful union of differing strains of heavy music.
As full-length work
Urn feels authentic. Ne Obliviscaris refrain from over-producing the record, instead opting to let the songs shine for what they are. Nothing overpowers the listener, just as nothing relies on flash over substance. With six tracks clocking in at over 45 minutes it requires a dedicated listener, and the album delivers enough variety for those up for the task.