Ne Obliviscaris – Portal of I

Ne Obliviscaris – Portal of I – 4/5

I never quite caught this band before, despite all the hype surrounding them they never really made it onto my radar. When I spotted this album rolling around I thought it was about time I heard what all the fuss was about, and it's about this point I realised that this was still their debut; a long awaited album for a band whose demo sparked more interest than those with long standing careers, and it's not difficult to see why. They might be called “Progressive Black Metal,” but like 'Thy Catafalque' before them, even if this was their origins, I'm not sure I'd still call them by that now. These Aussies have so many ideas and influences that permeates their music, adding delicate flavours to a basic blackened backbone that I don't think many would be offended if I referred to them as Avant-Garde.

It might have taken them five years to complete but to say they had a few idea's they needed to pen would be something of an understatement, and not only because this album clocks in at 72 minutes whilst still retaining a somewhat frenetic pace. There was one point that reminded me of the acoustic melody from “Diablo” (though since Diablo III was released, it might have somehow triggered the memory). Much of the violin melodies reminded me of “Profugus Mortis” (perhaps better known as “Blackguard before they fired the violinist”). There were passages that reminded me of “Les Fragments de La Nuit” (a French Neo-Classical Darkwave artist), and others with more of a folk tone, usually Celtic but the occasional Chinese-like flourish emerging. Flamenco acoustic guitar work and shredded solo's, contrast the almost Alcest-like ethereal ambient passages. Sometimes the bassist gets to break out a funky groove, sometimes a guitarist will join him, and I mean that with all the Jazz influences implied. There are two vocalists; the expected growls and a Prog/Power clean vocalist that trade off lines. In one short period I counted that there was a bass riff, independent – albeit similar to – a rhythm guitar riff, whilst the lead guitars solo'd, whilst the violins played for atmosphere and both vocalists sung at the same time.

Three guitar lines, two vocal lines and a violin line. At the same time. The fact that they have so many ideas and want to get them all out is in fact one of the major problems I had confronting this release; even when there aren't so many independent lines going that you could divide them quite happily into two entirely different songs, the tracks shift so often, never going too far from that singular tone that forms their backbone, but neither into territory that feels altogether similar to what came before it. In fact, it changes so often that I often can't remember what came before it; I can't tell one track from the next, but not because they all sound the same. There is simply nothing memorable about much of what's on display here, except perhaps of course, how unmemorable it is. When you employ so many influences so frequently throughout each of the tracks, replacing the standard catchiness of the riff and it's simplicity allowing it to become absorbed, memorised, and repeated throughout a songs length with these elements, there's nothing for the mind to latch on to.

This fact is a mixed blessing as they've created some of the most powerful crescendo's I've heard all year, slow violin and acoustic guitar lines suddenly give way to the blackened abyss and the result is without equal. I'd give you a more specific example except I can't remember where most of them are, and indeed often don't remember until it's upon me once more. There are other minor gripes as well; with so many lines to consider, mastering this release must have been a production nightmare and it's a miracle they've managed to do so well, retaining a raw live feel to many of the lighter passages whilst allowing each element to maintain a decent sense of audibility through the more complex. The drumming largely feels somewhat lacklustre, the snare at times feeling just a little bit too loud for the atmosphere being strived for; an issue that becomes even less significant when you consider just how varied the rest of the instrumentation is. The clean vocals, too, feel a little underwhelming at certain points, never quite capable of mustering the power to dominate over the proceedings as it feels they sometimes should.

That they have a whole host of ideas present on this album is never in question. That the violins perform a duty so well that it seems like other contemporary black metal artists have been missing out all these years, the albums stand out performer without question; that they know how to integrate all these elements in a manner that never feels unnatural, their ability to perform complex ever-shifting arrangements or their understanding of the power of subtlety, of all this there can be no doubt. Given all that it's hard not to be impressed by the work they've created, but whilst their ability to harmonise so many elements coherently seems limitless, it's the individual track compositions that let them down. Without any distinguishing features to stand out in the mind, all the tracks blur into a singular piece, and the result is that it feels somewhat purposeless, never quite sure on what specific atmosphere they're striving at or what point there is to it all, or indeed even if there is a point to it all. Aesthetically appealing, certainly, but it never engages you on a deeper level or makes you think, and ultimately it comes across as rather shallow. The fact that this is a debut album yet feels so mature and that I can think of nothing to really compare it to is genuinely incredible, and they show the potential to be a real tour de force, but not if nobody can remember what they sound like as soon as the music stops playing.