Several years back there was a storm of hype with the name NE OBLIVISCARIS (Latin for “Lest We Forget”) attached to it. Some were going so far as to suggest that this outfit of Aussies had reinvented metal as we know it, a lofty claim given the general tendency of the greater umbrella to expand gradually through tiny quirks in specific interpretations of a singular band or individual. Eventually calmer heads need to prevail in the name of an accurate account of this band’s musical content, which is quite impressive at first glance, but turns out to be rather commonplace with maybe the exception of the sheer scale of what is being done.
There are bits and pieces of ideas from various Extreme Progressive bands such as TO-MERA and OPETH spattered all over the mostly nine-minutes-plus songs found on here, culminating in a rather complex yet very methodical mixture of morose and serene musical pictures. The later work of EMPEROR also plays a key part in the most intense aspects of what is going on, namely the blasting sections where a collage of tremolo riffs and repetitive themes meld together to create a sort of misty feel, not all that far removed from the stew of sounds that dominated “Prometheus – The Principle Of Fire And Demise." Yet at the same time there’s a recurring violin sound through most of the album that brings a bit of an early TRISTANIA/SIRENIA element into the flavor as well.
On the whole, this music tends to be heavily impressionistic and tends to lead the listener around without totally bringing things to a cadence. It’s sort of along the lines of a contemplative process where one travels rapidly yet isn’t actually moving anywhere, but with a bit more of a metallic punch to it than what gets thrown around in comparable Shoegaze oriented bands like ALCEST. A good amount of its charm is likely lost on those who are not big on acoustic interludes and large, film score elements being injected into the format, which again brings us back to the whole OPETH connection. While NE OBLIVISCARIS is definitely influenced by said outfit, unlike them there is at least some semblance of a song to grab onto, albeit it usually comes about when things are in full swing.
The sheer level of musicianship on display here is ultimately the chief draw, which is usually the case for progressive outfits, although here it manifests less so with blatant technical showboating and more with the multiplicity of ideas generated from one section to the next. These aren’t really songs so much as they are compositions where the writer takes about as much time expanding his own parameters as he does trying to rope in listeners, but the presentation is effective enough to do both. About the only thing that might give this album trouble is the tension between consonance and dissonance, particularly the mixture of clean and shouted vocals. While the latter comes off as a pretty tried and true death bark in the mold early THERION, the former is pristine to the point of being Pop-like, a functionality that is less attractive in a male metal vocalist than a female one in this style, but it’s carried reasonably well and doesn’t dwell too much on one or the other.
It may seem a bit odd, but the ultimate thing holding this album back is literally how great it attempts to be. “Portal Of I” is almost like a dream, absorbing the listener completely to the point of being lost in it, but only being able to come away with parts rather than a clear impression of the whole. Even after several listens, I’ve found myself struggling to truly grasp the spirit of what is being articulated, leaving not only questions of accessibility, but also of effectiveness. It could be qualified as great, but at the same time lacking in essential goodness. But it is, nevertheless, a music that understands the quirky nature of its audience and will definitely be a force of sorts in the Metal world within its own niche.
(Online May 19, 2012)