Australian outfit Ne Obliviscaris return to the forefront of extreme metal with one of the most anticipated album releases of the year. Urn, the band’s third record, continues the band’s previous blending of both harsh and clean vocals. The formerly radical feature stemming from the ‘90s has now become an almost exhaustive trope within the genre.
The group burst onto the international metal scene with the release of their critically-acclaimed debut Portal of I (2012). Two years later, the band followed up with Citadel (2014). The sophomore record marked Ne Obliviscaris’ first release with the world-renowned and independent metal record label Season of Mist. Fans of the extreme metal subgenres might recognize some of the bands on the French-based label’s current roster. Such acts include: ABBATH, Atheist, Deathspell Omega, Drudkh, Gorguts, Incantation, Mayhem Misery Index, Saint Vitus, Septicflesh, Sólstafir, and Thy Catafalque.
Vocalist Xenoyr and former bassist Adam Cooper formed the band in 2003. Xenoyr vocal stylings gravitated towards harsher, dissonant style synonymous with death metal. However, violinist Tim Charles joined shortly after. Charles was intended to serve only as a violinist but found himself thrust into the spotlight after clean vocalist Sheri-Jesse left the band. and managed to incorporate an entirely new vocal element by implementing clean vocals. His haunting violin playing and the contrast of his clean and melodic singing to Xenoyr’s growls infused a progressive style that the band previously lacked. A revolving door of supporting players eventually led to a final lineup in 2008. Guitarist Benjamin Baret soon joined the fold to finalize a six-piece act that consisted of drummer Daniel Presland, rhythm guitarist Matt Klavins, Brendan “Cygnus” Brown on bass, Xenoyr as the band’s harsh vocalist, and Charles providing both his violin and clean vocals. The now six-piece act toiled for four more years in pursuit of a record contract. Finally, the band was signed to Italian label Code666 Records in May 2012.
Xenoyr displays some of the finest harsh vocals in the entire scene. Once again, his performance is extraordinary. The guttural, yet coherent, growls are worthy of the adoration of his musical peers. Meanwhile, his shriller sounds represent a beautiful blend of black and death metal vocals. There are traces of Chuck Shuldiner (Death), Mikael Åkerfeldt (Opeth), and perhaps a dozen other black and Viking metal frontmen filling his voice. The concluding line during the third verse of "Libera (Part I) - Saturnine Spheres" is perhaps one of the mightiest vocal lines in all of 2017.
Violinist and clean vocalist Tim Charles appears to play a much more prominent role on this particular record. Charles’ vocals are soaring and melodic as usual, and his violin playing is much improved from the two previous releases. His playing is both captivating and haunting. But, there are times when the album winds up being bogged down by these soothing interludes.
Daniel Presland’s double-bass drumming is ferocious from start to finish. Lead guitarist Benjamin Baret offers some brief but masterful guitar leads. And while the album may be devoid of signature riffs, Matt Klavins’ rhythm playing is serviceable enough. In short, the instrumentation is once again quite impressive.
Urn’s standout tracks, the blistering “Libera (Part I) – Saturnine Spheres" and the well-developed Urn suite ("And Within the Void We Are Breathless” and “As Embers Dance in Our Eyes”) bookend the album quite well. Throughout this record, there are masterful displays of sheer power and darkness paired with ethereal beauty and exceptional songwriting. The surreal and brilliant imagery of the lyrics conjures up a simultaneous nightmare and dream when delivered with juxtaposing harsh and clean vocals.
Still, there appears to be a stall in the band’s previous sonic evolution. Other than Charles’ growing role as both a vocalist and instrumentalist, the album signifies a retread of Portal of I (2012) and Citadel (2014). The compositions are extensive and given room to develop, but there isn’t anything groundbreaking to witness. A progressive metal band that fails to “progress” inevitably betrays the very appeal of their act. Thought not as intriguing as its predecessors, Urn remains an album that should conjure up many favorable impressions by those unfamiliar with Ne Obliviscaris’ work.
For fans of: Opeth, Amorphis, and Enslaved.