It’s hard for this writer to stick with an air of impartiality around one of Australia’s most unique and progressive metal bands. Harnessing seamless integration of two genres I absolutely enjoy (prog and black metal) and making me enjoy one genre I don’t usually like (classical), Ne Obliviscaris have exploded onto the Australian and international music scene in recent times. Or so it may seem to the average observer; in fact, the band have been plugging away for quite some time now.
For my first ever interview with Overdrive and indeed in the music business, I must admit I was more than nervous and ‘fanboying’ a bit hard, in anticipation of my conversation with dual-frontman/vocalist/screamer Xenoyr. However, much like the tapestry woven in the bands’ music, the ease with which he moved through questions and topics belies a man who is well versed in his beloved project, and is comfortable with his band, skills and the arts in general.
Many casual observers of the metal scene would pinpoint them as a more recent up-and-coming act with the critically-acclaimed successes of ‘Portal of I’, ‘Citadel’, recent release ‘Urn’ and subsequent massive local and international tours. What many may not know, however, is that these eclectic metallers have been plugging away for some time. ‘Well, I guess from when we started, from when we released our first demo we’ve had a bit of a surprising cult following almost, as we were doing something a little bit different with violin and whatnot’, notes Xenoyr ‘‘Portal of I’ kind of put us in that space where no one would have heard of us before the Internet, but with the album it kind of put is in the limelight in terms of [the] Australian music.’
Xenoyr also cites signing to Season of Mist as crucial in garnering support for ‘Citadel’- the bands’ sophomore effort: ‘With that backing behind us and belief in us from the label, it gave us the confidence to push forward and receive some international acknowledgement.’ Given the slow-burning start to releases, the Ne Obliviscaris camp were genuinely taken aback by their worldwide renown. As stated by Xenoyr, ‘We’ve received a hugely positive reception when touring around the world for ‘Citadel’, which was overwhelming as we didn’t know what to expect as to who overseas actually knew about us. Essentially, we write music for ourselves, so to see people over the world appreciating what we do is kind of overwhelming for us’. He was clear to posit that ‘it’s not something we set out to do – we write for ourselves first and foremost, and if people enjoy it that’s a welcome bonus’.
Quite a cavalier attitude for a band who are set to embark on a slew of dates across Australia, New Zealand and Europe all in the one year. When prompted about what prior highlights he could recall about international touring, Xenoyr remarked that, although any chance to tour overseas ‘is in itself a highlight’, what was particularly mind-blowing was ‘the initial travels to Europe after releasing ‘Citadel’, where we played over 13 festivals in one go; for a band with a tiny profile such as ours in the international metal scene, it was kind of hard to comprehend.’ Paying homage to their growing fanbase and the vanguards of heavy metal at the festivals, he notes Ne Obliviscaris were ‘playing on stages in front of thousands of people, with bands we’ve idolised for years and years and we thought ‘do we really deserve to be here’, you know? [Laughs].’
This modesty is rightfully tempered with some acknowledgement, however. ‘After you’ve sat back and digested it all, well…’ There is a brief pause for thoughtful lamentation here, and his tone returned more confident. ‘We’ve put a lot of time in; a lot of people don’t realise we started in 2003, when we started playing festivals people thought we were relatively new. They didn’t realise we’d been around for that many years, working our arses off to actually be able to leave the country!’
‘Going to Europe and getting into that festival scene was where we kind of stood back and said ‘Wow, we actually must be doing something right!’ he remarks with some chagrin. Well, Xenoyr, you and your intrepid crew of prog-metal explorers have certainly earned those stripes with the critical acclaim and successes of each album.
In regard to the song-writing process, I was curious as to whether the bands’ unique, overt but seamless blending of black metal, progressive metal and classical presents any challenges when coming up with new ideas. Fortunately, the band seems to gel quite well together according to Xenoyr. ‘With 6 members, it’s always a different to pull something together as a band, but in terms of writing we’ve been doing it for so long that writing stuff is not exactly straightforward – but we don’t exactly argue.’ Being quite forthcoming about his own musical preferences and influences, he notes that ‘I’ll be honest and say I’m not the biggest fan of prog music, I don’t listen to much prog myself, as much as I don’t like to use the word. If something feels a bit too ‘light’, I’ll usually voice my opinion as to whether I can stomach it or not.’
Which isn’t to say he is immediately ‘poo-pooing’ other musical influences; quite the opposite in fact. ‘With the sound overall, there may be some sections that aren’t as appealing to yourself – you have to compromise,’ he says. ‘I love everything we do, as it all works together, and as part of the songwriting process you understand why other musicians in the band want to go in a certain direction.’ Keeping a respectful attitude seems key to weaving the seemingly-disparate-at-first styles into the musical package. ‘Being open-minded in this band is the only way to be able to move forward’.
Even with a distinct unmistakeable sound, it also appears Ne Obliviscaris’ evolution. ‘I don’t know if there’s anything too different in terms of how we write; we don’t set out with a specific sort of formula to write a song.’ The organic nature of the songs, tangible to the listener, are also products of a seemingly natural process. ‘If it feels right that we want to go in a certain sort of direction, whether that’s dual vocals, a blastbeat or a violin solo, we go by feel.’
Xenoyr is also known for his array of creative talents in photography, art, design and literature. However, when it comes to Ne Obliviscaris specifically, the wellspring of inspiration begins with the music itself. ‘With the digital art, well, first you need the photography’, he explains, ‘but first I have to get the lyrics right, which are formed via the music.’ This process is formed by his opinion that he ‘couldn’t see himself doing anything other than creative work’, having grown up around classical art and literature. When prompted as to who his biggest artistic inspirations were, he gave nod to John Milton as his biggest literary influence, and particularly idolises the dark surrealist work of Zdzislaw Beksinski for both his own design and lyrics. Whereas other favourite H.R. Giger does a more ‘wet, biomechanical, green and grey style’, Xenoyr loves the ‘very interesting, dark-brown and decayed look of Beksinski’s work’. So much so, in fact, that he has one of the painters’ pieces tattooed to his right arm.
A dedication to the arts is obviously a main focus for the Ne Obliviscaris screamer, who is currently also engaged with members of Cradle of Filth, Susperia and other metal luminaries as frontman for Antiqva, a side project still concentrating on some elements of classical, but a much heavier emphasis on the black metal end of his creative spectrum. ‘It’s going to take a bit longer, as we’re focusing on using authentic instruments such as a brass section’, he noted, whilst also hinting at planning a ‘very elaborate live show’. Nevertheless, for all involved it is more a side project and Ne Obliviscaris remains his utmost priority. Word is, Antiqva should have something out mid-to-late-2018, so keep your eyes peeled.
Being a black metal fan and having that style influence his vocal delivery, I jokingly asked what he thinks ‘true’ black metal fans thought of his lack of corpse-paint, traipsing through forests and recording four-track tapes. There was some laughter, but this is a subject Xenoyr is decidedly passionate about, too. In regards to ‘true’ black metal, I was listening to a lot of it from about 13-14 years old. Around that time was when I’d say that sort of style was at its’ peak, and we can probably argue what ‘true’ or traditional black metal entails but nowadays there is a lot more crossover and a lot more lines being blurred.’ Being sure to emphasise this is in no way a bad thing, Xenoyr also bemoans how traditional black metal has lost sight of its’ original ethos, with ‘true’ black metal bands ‘being more gimmicky than anything these days, and more about aesthetics than the original principles’. These principles are apparently steeped in ‘misanthropy, philosophical existentialism, culture, history, paganism and medieval history’, something that he felt has been ‘lost and diluted’ in recent times.
Principled as he may be in this arena, he notes that ‘ultimately it is about the music; you write for the music itself which is what’s most important. Everything else is secondary’. This integrity is perhaps part of what has sustained the band so long and seen their sound flourish to great fervour and international appeal.
In almost job-interviewer style, I had to ask the tacky but important question about how he feels about the future of the band. Taken aback by himself, he is reminded that ‘Wow – in April, it’ll have been 15 years since we started this.’ But the band are far from giving up, in fact ‘we want to be doing this for another 15 years. We are getting more efficient and still enjoying the journey,’ he remarks.
‘We just want to keep doing this as long as we can – until we’re in wheelchairs even!’
Well, Xenoyr, if you guys keep offering music as intense, passionate and unique as you have been, I’ll be headbanging right beside you in the old folks’ home!
Catch Ne Obliviscaris playing their monumental new opus ‘Urn’ on their Australian and New Zealand tour, from 9th – 24th February. Tickets are available here.