Ne Obliviscaris’ Citadel: Another Helping of Jewel-Encrusted Sorcerer-Elephant Metal
I don’t listen to Between the Buried and Me all that often. If you don’t either, there’s probably a reason for that, and it’s probably not that BTBAM are so far underground that you just haven’t noticed them. If you do listen to that hugely talented (and, frankly, exhausting) band frequently, then you already know where Citadel is going, and you might not need another helping of jewel-encrusted sorcerer-elephant metal (I’m getting that term trademarked, bitches, and my wallet gonna bulge ‘cause nobody else was paying enough attention to get there first). Of course, this is coming from a guy who will shell out for any bleak, gutter-scraping semi-melodic funeral doom that happens to drip from some post-Soviet amps, so what the fuck do I know?
I hate scoring an album like Citadel. Any numerical rating pasted onto it is immediately, inevitably wrong. Some high-brow connoisseurs of intricate compositions will spend the next several months evangelizing the merits of this new genre-smasher by Aussies Ne Obliviscaris, while listeners with more traditional tastes will cry foul and demand that the band turn in their blast beats with their balls. Sometimes, we reviewers should be able to get away with a summative description and a Recommended If You Like tag. Summative description: Includes really, reeeeaaalllly long and convoluted songs that collect shifting movements like American liberals collect Obama-smashed dreams. RIYL: frighteningly earnest classical-tech-jazz-death, or the idea of Wes Craven and Roberto Benigni collaborating on a heartfelt deep-space thriller version of Fiddler on the Roof.
The album has, somewhat superficially, been split into six tracks which can actually be heard as three songs of imposing length. “Painters of the Tempest” is a 23-minute behemoth whose intro/outro sections have been trimmed away into their own personalities; “Devour Me, Colossus” was similarly snipped of its coda; “Pyrrhic” must have been deemed too short to mess with, given that it doesn’t even meet the 10-minute mark. Regardless, the three-song structure definitely facilitates listening – for all the contortions of mood and musical interplay, there is at least a focus on Citadel that is absent from those records that overwhelm with seven 11-minute sagas. Sections rarely freefall one into the other; Ne Obliviscaris usually find transitional material that allows listeners to slide naturally into each compositional module.
The music on Citadel cannot possibly be called bad. The album’s speed and density are extremely demanding, with guitar-chug firestorms crackling around overcharged death roars. But there are also sections full of cavorting fiddle – back up and read that again; yes, I said fiddle – and shaved-scrote-smooth clean vocals that invoke images of “angels,” “dreams” and “children” without even once surrounding them with words like “immolate,” “disembowel” or “phallotracheotomy.” Swedish power proggers Evergrey also traffic in slick melodies on their recent album, Hymns for the Broken, but they have figured out how to bend them into memorable hooks, a skill which makes all the difference in music this complex. The clean vocal passages on Citadel share closer kinship with similar bits by Maryland band Exist, rising from a less-pop-more-jazz sensibility. That said, Ne Obliviscaris appear to draw more inspiration from mid-aughts melodic metalcore than either of the aforementioned bands.
Ne Obliviscaris really try to stand apart from their peers with the consistent inclusion of violin lines. They mostly steer clear of that warm, mournful tone most often associated with bowed strings in a metal context, choosing instead a more raw, strident, frayed sound. It is telling about the polluted state of metal that we allow tracks like “Wyrmholes” and “Reveries from the Stained Glass Womb” on a metal record. None of that piano/violin/choral shit would have passed muster on a late 80s thrash/death comp. Not that I’m complaining. Some of my favorite extreme music is a bastardization of the form, and some would say it’s the duty of any modern musician to stab across sonic boundaries. I’m just, you know, making a point. Not that I know what that point is…