Ne Obliviscaris - Portal of I (2012)
OK, it isn't very often when I give a debut album this much of an expectation before I've even heard it. And in this circumstance, I had no understanding of what kind of music they played. Only a name: Ne Obliviscaris. That sounds fucking brutal! And oh my god is it an experience! Portal of I might be one of the best debut's of any genre within the last decade and laid down the path in solid gold in terms of potential.
For starters, let's talk about what this album's appeal is, because even I was taken aback at first. The opening connection that I got was a heavier version of Opeth with the remarkable sense of pace and flow. The spacing is brilliant and this band makes excellent use of its instrumentals; lead guitars, harsh and clean vocals, and violin solos. The counterpoint between the violin and lead guitar during the third act of "Tapestry of the Starless Abstract" is breathtaking. Furthermore, I am in love with the atmospheric tremolo picking of the rhythm guitar that is reminiscent of epic sounding black metal like Panopticon that I am a mark for. This makes it familiar to the Opeth sound of the 2000s, but varied enough to not sound like a blatant copy.
I think for an album that is as bold as Portal of I is that we ask whether or not the progressive elements serve as wanking material instead of telling a thoughtful story through the music. And I will admit, throughout the years and in the playthroughs for writing this review, I pondered this very question. Was I more interested in the sound instead of the tunes themselves? Because my issues with modern progressive metal are not completely missing from this album; whiplash transitions on the opener as well as "And Plague Flowers the Kaleidoscope", in addition to passages that feel elongated for their own sake. Ne Obliviscaris also have a problem with the transitions that they pull off well; and that issue is that they all follow the same pattern. I am not opposed to this by any stretch since having recurring ideas or motifs make your sound distinctive. I just wish that this band had more than just two or three. In addition, nearly every song seems to fall into the same tempo range, which can be a detriment to most, but is saved by drastic key flips and extremely memorable leads and rhythmic passages.
It's also helped by the fantastic production. Again, this album is incredibly influenced by Opeth and you can tell through the mixing. The bass lines are among some of the best that you may hear in this brand of progressive metal, the rhythm guitar is loud and forceful, but always steps back and serves as accompaniment to the leads provided by the violin, lead guitar and vocals. The percussion is spectacular. For an album where the bass is drum is performing at a blistering pace for basically the entire record, the fact that it never interferes with the melodic passages is remarkable. It's the kind of precision that I wish more extreme metal bands would follow, even more so when it comes to the brutal side.
When it comes to debut albums, there is Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, and Pretty Hate Machine. I think it is safe to say that we can include Portal of I in that mix of groundbreaking opening remarks. The way in which Ne Obliviscaris build their world and bring us for the tour is refreshing and straight up awesome. They struck gold with this album and almost no one has been able to keep up. Or to put it another way: Portal of I is the spiritual successor to Watershed if Opeth had not reverted to progressive rock. I hope that alone is enough of an incentive to travel this unprecedented world.
Still going through The Infinite clan challenge, I've just reached Ne Obliviscaris, one of the most epic extreme progressive bands in my playlist, possibly in the world! This band has everything including "(male) Beauty and the Beast" vocals, brilliant guitars, creative drums, groovy melodic bass, and top-notch violin. It's hard to say exactly what style they play, but I say it's a mix of mixes; neo-classical death metal, jazz-fused black metal, avant-garde thrash metal, and melodic flamenco metal.
And wow! Just WOW!! What an album this is! First part of Ne Obliviscaris' discography, and they absolutely nailed it! This album, along with the band's other material, clearly establishes that Ne Obliviscaris is one of my favorite progressive metal bands of all time.
"Tapestry of the Starless Abstract" starts the album in a vicious bang, 40 seconds of blasting black metal. Then things start calming down a little with some violin plucking. After those first 4 minutes of progressive/black metal greatness, there's a quick violin solo (if another progressive metal band did a cover of this song, that would probably be keyboards instead), and a long almost 3-minute acoustic section in the middle with more violin. Then the systematic chaos continues for the last 5 minutes. "Xenoflux" has a perfect blend of loud and emotional, especially in its climax that comes to a sudden stop. "Of the Leper Butterflies" is a shorter song (6 minutes) that has a good acoustic intro before heading into dynamic chaos.
The title of this track, "Forget Not" is the English translation for Ne Obliviscaris. The first half is a long quiet atmospheric passage that tries to build up to heaviness but ends up falling back down. Then in a second attempt, it gets up much higher and closer to metal, and by the midway point, it made it! The violin stops and let the instrumentation and vocals do their work for the rest of this song. Another clever song title, "And Plague Flowers the Kaleidoscope" shows what the music is about. beautifully sinister words over fantastic music that make time fly for like the third 12-minute epic this album has.
"As Icicles Fall" once again has a great balance of epic and extreme, plus a violin solo switching into a Dream Theater-like guitar solo. "Of Petrichor Weaves Black Noise" is another awesome song that continues that balance. When the song reaches the last 3 minutes, the heaviness is over. There's nothing left but ambient ambiance and an operatic voice that rises to a layered choir alongside a bit more violin. Then pink noise static fades in before stopping abruptly... TOO abruptly, but I will let it slide.
This is definitely one of my favorite progressive metal albums ever with the best and most consistent songwriting. This album flows like a captivating emotional roller-coaster. The production is appropriately clean. I'm saying, completely certainly, that this is a masterpiece you just gotta enjoy. Do not forget this album!
Favorites: All, but my #1 favorite is "Forget Not".