Cult classics are a difficult feat. There is little in the way of written instruction on how to create something that ingrains itself into the cultural psyche – something that comes to define genre boundaries, or something that shatters them completely. Australian progressive metal act NE OBLIVISCARIS have somehow become somewhat of a cult act in recent times. With now three studio albums, a handful of EPs, and several years of aggressive international touring under their belts, their eminent position in the upper echelons of the modern progressive movement seems well deserved.
Their third and latest full-length offering, Urn, is a complex beast. Complexity is of course required of a progressive metal classic, but NE OBLIVISCARIS are ever intent on bringing new meaning to the word, both structurally and instrumentally. The record practically brims with ambition from the offset, and in typical fashion, it is constructed primarily of lengthy epics and instrumental interludes. Without putting a dampener on the musical quality of the album, it is in fact he structure that proves the record’s greatest flaw. Despite the album being of reasonable length on paper, it is only six tracks, one of which is an interlude. Of course, these songs are all very long as songs go, but one might feel like the album ends just as it enters its third act.
NE OBLIVISCARIS are an extremely instrumentally focused band, and Urn proves a great leap forward for the band. One could be forgiven for expecting a band such as NE OBLIVISCARIS to reach some sort of plateau of technicality and skill with the release of 2014’s Citadel, but Urn succinctly proves that assumption unfounded in a virtuosic showcase of violins and blastbasts. The improvement in instrumentation is immediately noticeable as the album launches into a meticulous technical display interwoven with tranquil passages of violins and acoustic guitars. The guitarwork in particular has become far more complex, the shred leading the ensemble in huge melodic journeys through nearly every aspect of extreme metal.
The quality of writing is of the utmost standard with Urn, and the band weaves masterful musical tapestries over the course of the record. Despite some setbacks, the album also benefits greatly from the length of its songs, allowing them to peak and trough frequently, creating a vibrant texture of sound. Indeed, at times, one could forget that NE OBLIViSCARIS has two vocalists, who both perform brilliantly throughout.
There are only a few criticisms one might be able to level against Urn, and none of them are particularly pressing, such as the aforementioned number of tracks. Indeed, as a result of said flaw, the album seems to end a song too early, leaving the listener sat anxiously awaiting another song’s introduction. Another criticism could be the loss of many of the black metal influences from previous records, which added a biting edge to the faster, more volatile sections of the music. The loss of such influences has created a much more general progressive identity for the band, opening the gates to a much wider audience, encapsulating both the extreme metal and progressive metal scenes.
Urn is a powerful and contrasting record, and has all the makings of a cult classic. It shows clear evolution and progression from Citadel, showing a band both cementing their sound, and actively pushing it further. Few bands have managed to forge such a diverse, unique sound, and even fewer have learned to change it for the better. This is a record that should be a bookend for any progressive metal fan.
Urn is set for release on October 27th via Season of Mist.
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