Album Review: NE OBLIVISCARIS Urn
I like Urn. If you're a Ne Obliviscaris fan, you'll probably like Urn, too. Somehow don't know about this band? Well, just by virtue of you reading an article on a website called Metal Injection, there's a fair chance that you'll also enjoy this record.
It's also the Australian quintet’s weakest album yet. That kills me to write, because there's few metal acts I'd like to champion more than Ne Obliviscaris. The band's legitimately jaw dropping 2012 debut Portal of I immediately established Ne Obliviscaris as one of extreme metal's most promising newcomers, and beyond their music, the band’s impressive crowd funding efforts and infectiously enthusiastic social media presence makes the group nearly impossible not to love.
Though Urn isn't worth quite that level of endearment, that doesn’t mean that all of the musical pieces responsible for Ne Obliviscaris' meteoric ascent through the extreme metal ranks aren’t here. Tim Charles' soaring clean vocals are as beautiful as ever, especially when layered over Marc “Xenoyr” Campbell's growls. Proggy instrumentation is abound but never overbearing. And of course, Charles’ always-fantastic violin work is back and Urn boasts some of his finest work on the strings to date.
But it all feels a little more forced this time around. A touch more mechanical. Urn is hardly a boring retread, but the fiery, spirited edge that made the band so well-loved seems to have dimmed ever so slightly. Though Urn doesn't suffer from any egregiously low points, only a scant few minutes of material keeps things genuinely interesting on even an initial listen, never mind repeated spins.
Surprisingly, it's Urn’s metal portions that fare worst here. Xenoyr's harsh vocals lack the emotive, slightly raspy touch that made his work on prior albums such a marvel and while they adequately moves the music's heavier moments along, that's hardly a great selling point. Though never offensively dull, there's still nary a single growl or scream that stands out as especially impactful or fierce, which is especially concerning since the metallic instrumentation has a similarly tepid impact.
It's all technical and heavy, I guess, but rarely goes anywhere interesting. Neither riffs or drums offer much in the way of attention-grabbing creativity or particular intensity, and all-too-often seem sound they're just there to fill space, which causes large chunks of Urn to blend together for minutes at a time.
Of course, that shouldn't imply that there are no metal highlights. Opener "Libera (Part 1) – Saturnine Spheres" kicks off the record on a high note and is bursting with metallic aplomb. After a calming instrumental section, the song absolutely explodes at the 6:50 mark with a genuinely soaring vocal performance and wonderfully outlandish guitar work. The wildly high standard persists throughout the song's remaining three minutes, which are the strongest parts of the record by a considerable margin.
The last paragraph aside, this is beginning to read like a fairly damning assessment, but I'll stress that there's not a genuinely weak moment here. While Urn's metal half—another issue is that the smooth integration of light and heavy elements is far less pronounced this time around—lacks the impact of Ne Obliviscaris' earlier works, it's still a more-or-less enjoyable, albeit largely unremarkable and definitely forgettable, listen.
The metal's the weaker half, but if you follow that description to its logical conclusion, that means Urn's lighter elements fare better. That's true: Urn’s songs are given ample breathing room during their lighter segments and Charles’ aforementioned singing and violin work unquestionably carries the record.
The nearly 12-minute "Eyrie," the record's longest piece, serves as one of the clearer examples of this. The track’s beautifully calming intro is full of Charles’ crooning cleans and an almost hypnotic drumming performance that causes its first four minutes to seemingly fly by. “Eyrie” isn’t quite as successful when the metal kicks in, though the song does offer some of the better meshing of the band’s light and heavy sides, but kicks things back into gear with some superbly epic violining near its end.
Outside of "Intra Venus" — which somewhat redeems itself with Charles’ frantic, lively singing in the song’s outro — and "Libera (Part II) – Ascent of Burning Moths," a brief instrumental that just feels unnecessary, there's nothing here that I genuinely disliked. But aside from the handful of aforementioned highlights, I mostly found myself spacing out for minutes at a time, wishing I was listening to Portal of I instead. Even at its best, nothing on Urn can compete with the gorgeous outro of that album's "Tapestry of the Starless Abstract" or the general perfection that is "Forget Not."
Of course, Urn is its own album and should be judged as such, but there's no hiding that Ne Obliviscaris has created this album before, but much better. Urn is certainly an enjoyable, slightly above average, record, but it’s not one that I imagine will be worth coming back to time and time again. The band’s legion of fans and diehards for this kind of music will be right at home here, but this is far from the majestic, moving work that originally earned Ne Obliviscaris such rabid goodwill.