Since their full-length début back in 2012. Australian prog metallers Ne Obliviscaris have shown a tremendous boldness of vision but yet have not quite managed to get it to gel to perfection. Their amalgamation of extreme metal, complex tech-metal, progressive rock’s wide arrangements and added orchestral elements have proven equally impressive and daunting, and despite some moments of brilliance, they haven’t quite backed their talent up with a landmark release. That is until now, with third album Urn (Season of Mist) being an unprecedented step forward.
One criticism that has plagued Ne Obliviscaris until now has had almost too much going on, with their music sounding bloated and, at times, needlessly convoluted. What is striking about Urn is how comparatively refined it is to its predecessors without losing any complexity and layering. At its heart, there is direction and songcraft still replete with huge dynamic changes throughout. The opening blast of ‘Saturnine Spheres’ showcases this refinement brilliantly, doing without the overdrawn intro that previous album Citadel (Season of Mist) was guilty of, exchanging for a much more succinct passage which builds from low-key jazz to more impactful melodeath with Tim Charles’ clean vocals, gradually implementing heavier aspects such as Xen’s growls, frantic blast-beats, and sharp fretwork.
With such a palette at their disposal, Urn steps up in consistency, with no aspect of their sound feeling inferior or less focused anymore. Xen’s growls feel ferocious and match the intensity when they hit their extreme stride; whilst their more melodic parts show as equally enhanced passion, emotion, and atmosphere. Even their instrumentation has improved, with the violin turning from what felt at times like a bolt-on on previous records, now proving a vital, emotive and formidable component; particularly during a closing passage on centrepiece and album highlight ‘Eyrie’ as it gives an imposing lead display as the prominent riff.
Up to this point, Ne Obiviscaris had yet to fully deliver on their potential and have even been close to proving the old adage of too many cooks when it comes to their packed hybrid of styles, but Urn is a monumental culmination of their contrasting styles and shows a fluidity, vitality, and captivation. Aside from just a stark improvement on themselves, Urn feels like an important release for progressive metal as a whole. Perfectly balancing intensity with melodicism, aggression with poignancy and sheer technicality with heart, Urn is not only one of (if not the) best progressive metal albums of the year, and an important standard-bearer for the genre as a whole.