Ne Obliviscaris’ latest offering, Urn, is quite simply everything fans might look for in an album, magnified. Everything that has thus far defined Ne Obliviscaris and made them great is emphasized in this album, but particularly noteworthy is Tim Charles’ growth as a musician. While he’s always been a virtuoso, his vocals are smoother and more powerful than ever, while his violin leads far more strongly throughout the Urn compositions than it did on Portal of I or Citadel. Urn is without a doubt Ne Obliviscaris’ crowning achievement thus far.
The album opens with the gentle, melodic intro to ‘Libera (Part I) – Saturnine Spheres,’ which builds into a full band intro that kicks in so heavily that it’s almost a crescendo in itself. The theme heard here becomes familiar throughout the ten-minute track, as it returns several times. The listener will immediately be cognisant of the strength of Charles’ vocals, his voice soaring above the incredibly fast drums and incisive guitar. Dan Presland’s drums offer more than speed however, with playing that is both very technical and highly engaging. There is also growth in the progressive guitar work of Matt Klavins and Benjamin Baret, settling in flawlessly with the rapid changes of the drums. Charles’ violin work meanwhile is tortured, but not plaintive. The violin leads every bit as effectively as the guitars, though it must be said that Baret’s first guitar solo is incredible. ‘Saturnine Spheres’ becomes very dark as it goes on, seemingly taking the listener on a descent into ruin before moving into a gypsy-like, violin-led piece. In this section, we hear some of the smoothest and most flowing violin work we’ve ever heard from Charles. The violin-led part is surprisingly long, but absolutely engaging; it then leads into the massive kick-in with the choir, recorded with a group of Ne Obliviscaris Patreon supporters – the Ne Obluminati. ‘Saturnine Spheres’ weaves beautifully between rousing hope and fire with the choir, and despairing lamentation with Charles and harsh vocalist Xenoyr playing off each other, enhanced by the weeping violin. This track alone pretty much captures the centre of the aesthetic field of Ne Obliviscaris.
‘Libera (Part II) – Ascent of Burning Moths’ is a sort of gentle, lamenting refrain to ‘Saturnine Spheres,’ bringing in a more depressive aspect of the intro, and the most mournful violin we’ve heard from Charles yet. Again, we stay focused on the violin for some time as it leads the composition in its beautiful wandering.
The album comes to another gentle start with ‘Intra Venus,’ though with a little more urgency to the build-up. Once the track kicks in, it’s intense, dark, powerful, undeniably with shades of Opeth. This is particularly emphasised in Xenoyr’s vocals, strongly reminiscent of classic Mikael Akerfeldt. Charles’ voice on the other hand brings the lighter, more melodic element to the track. Charles’ vocals are in fact somewhat incongruous over the furious drums, but work to continue the struggle between light and shade that abounds throughout the album. Charles’ second vocal entrance however is positively triumphant, leading into a solo that treads the balance between his rousing hope and the darkness of the rest of the track; this carries over to the violin solo. Here we get to know session bassist Robin Zielhorst, whose leads play well with the more melodic and whimsical side of Ne Obliviscaris. At this point it’s an interesting departure that leads the track in a new direction, with the sombre elements reintroduced through cello as well as the riffing guitar. This finally opens up a very interesting, almost classical composition with Xenoyr’s vocals coming back in almost staccato fashion, a magnificent contrast to the return of Charles’ soaring voice.
‘Eyrie’ is a deeply comforting track after the intensity of ‘Intra Venus.’ Charles’ vocals are incredibly soulful, even warm and loving. The track stays in the gentle space led by violin and acoustic guitars for some time, also with a strong bass presence. Zielhorst moves the track along without having to get too heavy, but still with plenty of body. It’s about four and a half minutes before the guitars kick in, building anticipation but this time with a positive sense. Charles and Xenoyr’s vocals come in together for the uplifting movement, before the track comes back into the bass and violin space, this time backed by the heavier guitars. There’s something bittersweet about this later guitar-led section, highlighted by the focus on Xenoyr’s vocals and the more mournful but still honeyed tone to the violin.
The disquiet returns with the intense, droning intro to ‘Urn (Part I) – And Within the Void we are Breathless.’ This track begins slow and heavy before leading into some almost psychedelic guitar and violin, then becoming fast and frenetic. Charles’ violin carries a swaying melody over very harsh vocals and incredibly fast drums, before his lament signals the return of absolute darkness to the album. Charles’ impressively high vocals wind us through the most despair-laden music Ne Obliviscaris have ever produced. ‘And Within the Void we are Breathless’ finally becomes strong and martial, with a focus on the drums and a sound overall reminiscent of Dark Tranquillity as the guitars too bring it down, accompanied at last by distorted violin.
‘Urn (Part II) – As Embers Dance in our Eyes’ picks up with a very stirring drumbeat over ominous guitars. The apocalyptic feeling is bolstered by Xenoyr’s roars and the continuingly discordant violin. This is the darkest and most threatening track on the album, and kicks up into a heavy headbanging section that once again feels a bit like Opeth, but faster than most of their work outside of Deliverance, in Presland’s drums as well as Klavins and Baret’s mesmerising guitar licks. Presland’s drums are showcased well before Charles’s vocals restore a sense of comfort, and the track closes with majestic guitars and synth.
Urn is an absolute tour de force of an album, without a dull note. Every member of the already highly accomplished band has grown considerably to create an album that typifies the band, but also extends it to heretofore uncharted heights. No fan should be disappointed with this creation, and doubtless it will garner many new ones to join the Ne Obluminati.