Ne Obliviscaris – Exul (2023)

Ne Obliviscaris – Exul (2023)
Artist: Ne Obliviscaris
Album: Exul
Genre: Extreme Progressive Metal
Label: Season of Mist
Year Of Release: 2023
Quality: FLAC (tracks+.cue)

01. Equus (12:29)
02. Misericorde I – As The Flesh Falls (07:33)
03. Misericorde II – Anatomy Of Quiescence(09:21)
04. Suspyre(10:09)
05. Graal (08:53)
06. Anhedonia(03:43)


– Xenoyr / harsh vocals
– Tim Charles / clean vocals, violin, viola, keyboards
– Benjamin Baret / lead guitars
– Matthew Klavins / guitar
– Martino Garattoni / bass
– Dan Presland / drums

– Emma Charles / additional violin
– Alana K / additional vocals
– Dalai Theofilopoulou / cello

Ne Obliviscaris hardly require introduction in these parts. The last decade established a pattern of bi- or tri-annual releases, opening with 2012’s inventive Portal of I and closing with 2017’s well-regarded Urn. One pandemic and an uncharacteristic wait later has revealed 2023’s Exul. Boasting a core fusion of progressive music, extreme metal and classical influences, these Aussies have always reveled in not just musical, but also thematic, excess. Accordingly, Exul appears to lever a loose Crusades theme; the cover art, sure, but language such as “Graal” (an antiquated translation of grail) and “Misericorde” (a slim knife used to deliver mercy killings to wounded knights) indicate a preoccupation with conflict and misguided international excursions. I dare say this flows from Covid-inspired human divisions and border controls hindering the band’s collaboration. How do they sound on their reunion?

NeO generally fall under the progressive metal umbrella but they don’t sound much like any one artist. They hammer their progressive sound into the shape of extreme metal built from black and death materials, but classical and jazzy influences adorn this. There’s a lilting style that clearly grew out of an admiration for Opeth, with long-form and expansive songwriting, but their sound is clearly their own. Tim Charles’s violin and distinctive clean vocals are woven with extreme metal into music which belies the band’s disdain for anything simple or catchy. Exul is just as ornate, and in some places more opaque, as any of their releases. Layers of electric guitars, acoustic guitars, violins, clean singing and death growls continually construct and deconstruct, exemplified by the core of the record: the two-part “Misericorde” movement. “I: As the Flesh Falls” largely sits on the heavy side of the fence, while “II: Anatomy of Quiescence” is comparatively light. But the two together build to a cathartic outburst, gripping me for over 17 minutes.

Charles’s sobbing violin goes a long way to distinguishing NeO. Not through the violin in itself, given that plenty of metal bands use strings (or at least synth strings). Rather, it’s his unique cadence and expressive style. Classical instruments in metal can feel superficial as they closely follow melodies clearly written for guitars, but the strings here are as much the focus as the guitars. This means that interludes – and even the moody, instrumental conclusion called “Anhedonia” – aren’t gratuitous and are central to the music’s development. Exul uses a greater range of stringed instruments than I’ve noticed previously, including a viola and cello. There’s an engaging balance of passages with just one lonely violin to convey poignance and fragility, but also those with deeper layers where harmonization and/or counter-point pull you in different directions.

As such, there are moments on Exul which feel more deft and sophisticated than any other in NeO’s discography. The opening to “Misericorde II” beautifully wraps violin layers with a piano which gradually morphs into a passage with playful, jazzy guitars. Similarly, “Equus”1 climaxes with beefy, noodling guitars layered over blasting drums and chanted backing vocals, gilding its intensity with a black metal scream. These moments are balanced by those driven by comparatively simple rhythms. “Equus,” “Misericorde I” and “Graal” all open with straight-forward, percussive passages, belying an unusual directness for NeO. The first of these is the core of the song, offering a clear motif for listeners to recognize, while the second wraps intricate, knotty riffs into blackened blasting. No passage here is basic but there are counter-weights to those that are particularly complex.

Sadly, Exul generally diminishes as it progresses. Where “Equus” has its driving motif to maintain my focus, the “Misericorde” tracks are fused into a sum greater than their parts and I love “Anhedonia” as an unsettling coda, “Suspyre” and “Graal” are relatively weak. They feature the same raft of instrumentation and dynamism, and yet they’re somehow missing something. Perhaps it’s emotion, as I’m left nonplussed across their 19 minutes. It might be novelty, because there’s nothing featured that you won’t hear elsewhere in NeO’s catalog. Or possibly it’s the absence of hooks, as few melodies are memorable. Whatever the combination of reasons, my relative ambivalence highlights other deficiencies of Exul too. For example, the production is a touch too clinical given my preference for extreme metal with more of a jagged edge, and uses boxy drum tones I’ve criticized historically. Similarly, I can understand why the vocals don’t always win over their listener. Xenoyr’s roars are powerful but one-note, while Charles’s cleans do what’s required but lack depth.

Exul finds NeO still operating in my sweet spot of dynamism, progression and variety. There’s plenty of high-quality, experimental extreme metal to enjoy. But its flabby second half feels longer and less inventive than the first, partly because “Suspyre” and “Graal” are indeed long songs but also because they’re less good iterations of music we’ve heard before. For too long on the record there’s a black hole that extinguishes the bright spots; those moments of levity or harmony which enables NeO’s best songs to shine. Exul is very good but it isn’t great, simply because it has fewer of those stellar moments.
~ By El Cuervo, angrymetalguy

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