You know that predictable moment when you make a new acquaintance and, as the conversation develops, you eventually mention that you listen to metal, only to be met with the reply ‘Oh, I can’t listen to metal, it’s just screaming and noise and lyrics about eating dead babies’? Well, next time you find yourself in such a situation, play them this. Play them this and make them eat every single fucking one of their narrow-minded, pig-headed words.
Ne Obliviscaris – Portal of I. To call it an ‘album’ would be to give it much less credit than it’s worth. This is a classical, orchestral concerto cleverly disguised as an extreme metal opus. It has movements and moods, lights and shades and so many different colours, swelling into aggressively anguished metal outbursts from the most delicate of classical arrangements. It’s the kind of music that would seem just as natural being led by a madman in corpse paint, leather and spikes as it would by an orchestral conductor.
Analysing Portal of I track by track would defeat the whole purpose of the release. This composition isn’t supposed to be listened to song by song; it’s supposed to be listened to as a cohesive piece of music, such is the fluidity of its movements.
Beginning with a fairly standard drum fill that topples into a predictable tremolo picked riff with screeched vocals, you can’t say that Ne Obliviscaris don’t have a sense of humour as they set the listener up for what appears to be just another black metal album. Then there’s a sly hint of classical strings before the vocals evolve into a more powerful death metal roar, joined by an almost operatic croon which, together, create something quite ethereal.
This is the first indication that these Aussies are doing something a little different, but it’s nothing compared to the surprise when everything falls away to leave the tinkering of a classical guitar as a violin weeps over the top. Then we’re in extreme metal mode again, the vocals operating from the wings as the violin takes centre stage, adding a sense of emotion unmatched by other more traditional heavy acts. Before the piece is over the operatic vocals have returned and the bass guitar has meandered away, cutting its own path amongst the densely woven musical tapestry. And that’s only the first twelve minutes.
Over the next 60 minutes or so, many different musical styles are fused together (at one point the violin threatens to break into a gypsy swing piece) yet at no point does it fall into patchwork territory. As we enter the second act the guitars and drums break into a frenzied thrash riff as the violin flutters over the top like a butterfly caught in a tornado. Five minutes later the tempo has resided to make way for a touching ballad penned over an accessible, metalcore riff. Of course, it’s only a matter of minutes before the music has evolved to take on a completely different shape. Violins and double kick drums, classical arrangements and down-tuned guitars, operatic vocals and earth-shaking roars; this is a work of extremes in the broadest sense of the word. Polar opposites these elements may be, but they fit together perfectly, the contrast of beauty and aggression creating something that transcends anything that either of these components could accomplish on their own.
The most remarkable thing about Ne Obliviscaris is that there is no weak link. Each man is a master of his instrument and possesses more talent than most bands do collectively. Together they weave music so sophisticated, so transcendental, that it sounds as if it comes from the mouths of the muses themselves. People often say that metal and classical music share many similarities; here the theory is tested and proven to the point of certainty. This is music in its purest form.