The Seasons of Mist promo team must have collectively flipped their titties when the Sydney Conservatorium of Music announced they were to use Ne Obliviscaris‘s “And Plague Flowers The Kaleido” on their teaching syllabus. In a world of increasingly simple and commercial music, nothing screams musical credibility more than appreciation from a prestigious classical school. Mutual respect and musical coalition of the ‘complex’ and ‘respectable’ genres of classical, jazz and metal are commonly used by bands and fans for self-validation and in intellectual dick-waving contests. The one complaint I had about Ne Obliviscaris‘s début LP, Portal Of I, was that it was one of these exercises. It’s a fantastic, accomplished work of art and it was one of my favorites from 2012, but it lacked that feeling. It was a work of aesthetics without a tangible soul.
The same cannot be said of Citadel. Start to finish, there is a sense of cohesiveness and an underlying purpose to the record, beyond mere skill and pretentiousness (have you seen those song titles?). More, the Melbourne-based six-piece retains their unique brand of extreme metal combined with classical and jazz, improving on the already-stellar musical credibility which they crave so. Citadel is the complete package for the discerning prog fan and metalhead, and I cannot recommend it highly enough.
It’s not easy to pigeon-hole No Obliviscaris into a single extreme genre. While Portal Of I could be broadly categorized as symphonic black metal, Citadel bears stronger death influences. Compare the intros of “Tapestry Of The Starless Abstract” with “Pyrrhic”: the latter from Citadel bears further down-tuned guitars, a thicker bass drum, and tasty chromatic chord progressions, whereas the former has a more typical tremolo-picked black metal melody. The extreme metal sections here are absolutely punishing, such as on the opening five minutes of “Pyrrhic” and “Devour Me, Colossus I: Blackholes.” The battering blast beats, and the thick, technical riffs, contribute to this effect.
But along with its heaviness, there are the undeniable classical sections. The introduction, “Painters Of The Tempest I: Wyrmholes,” and the conclusion, “Devour Me, Colossus II: Contortions,” enclose the record, slowly breaking you into the complex soundscapes and lifting you away again at the end. Tim Charles’s violin is exemplary, and more varied than on Portal Of I. He uses a greater range in pitch, as well as more minor and atonal notes on these two songs, with the result of a beautifully unsettling experience. The recurring piano keys on these two tracks are haunting and bring the record full circle, while establishing the theme of the record. Charles narrates the quiet, desolate wandering through the eponymous citadel, just as the heavy tracks narrate its eventual destruction.
The greatest asset of Citadel is undoubtedly its ability to surprise the listener. Just when you think the band is settling into a regular rhythm, they introduce a new sound, nail a unique transition or progress to a new phase of a song. “Pyrrhic” will undoubtedly go down as one of my favorite tracks from this year, featuring a jaw-dropper of a breakdown and transition. After blasting the listener with some of the most aggressive material on the record, the tempo slows to a near stop, with ambient noise and a simple drum-line. After building, the background unexpectedly cuts – the use of silence as a contrast floored me. Additionally, the interlude, “Painter Of The Tempest III: Reveries From The Stained Glass Wound” (Pretentiousness: unparalleled), bears a flamenco flavor, with dual melodies from the violin and an acoustic guitar. They even use some djent-y riffs towards the end of “Painters Of The Tempest II: Triptych Lux.” There’s a sophisticated and utterly compelling integration of many components and styles here.
If I have one gripe (and I do only have one) it’s the production. Rather than allowing the enamored listener – of which there are many where this hype train is concerned – to gradually unfurl the intricacies of the music on their own, everything is unsubtly shoveled to the fore. There are many layers and instruments going on at various points here, which requires clarity in mixing, but everything sounds far too pristine. Each instrument seems to have been produced to have equal weighting and the same effect – the violin should be more delicate to better contrast the guitars, for example. The kick drum is similarly over-produced, weakening the rhythm component.
Quirky production aside however, Citadel is nigh-on masterful. Credibility permeates everything, from the complex song-writing and varied vocals to the superior riffing, violin-work and interesting drumming. A melancholic note overhangs the record, reflecting the theme of a destroyed society, which gives this record better direction than Portal Of I. I only hope Ne Obliviscaris continue along this path – self-indulgent dick-waving and all.