Welcome to day 27 of my ‘Album of the Year 2017 top 30 countdown’.
Today’s pick proves that my words throughout this series have not been hollow hyperbole – any other year and this particular album might have been at the top of the pile or very close to it. As it is, I have had to place it at a very commendable number 4.
But please don’t let that fool you into thinking it isn’t an incredible album, because it genuinely is. And I had to do a lot of soul searching before placing the top ten albums into the final order. In fact, I was still debating a few of the placings as I started publishing the top ten. Never before have I been so torn about my list. But having too many good albums to choose from is much better than the alternative reality. It just means that my thesaurus gets heavier use when it comes to picking superlatives for each release.
Hopefully regular readers can forgive me for this constant reminder but if you’re new to this series, be sure to check out the links that can be found below for all of my previous posts in this year’s series, along with a couple of ‘honourable mentions’ posts and the entire series from 2012-2016. If you explore any of these, I hope you enjoy what you read.
And now, here’s my choice for number 4:
Season of Mist
“It is fair to say that ‘Urn’ does not have it easy. Any album asked to follow the exceptional ‘Citadel’ would find it tough, especially when you also add a thick layer of feverish anticipation and expectation from the loyal fan base.
But rather than be rushed, these five Australians have taken three years to write, shape, and perfect their next offering. And I’ll cut to the chase: the result is phenomenal. Absolutely phenomenal.
And what’s unusual with this kind of multi-layered, technical and complex style of music, is that my love for this record was almost instantaneous. Love at first listen, you might say. The reason is that ‘Urn’ incorporates just about everything I like in my metal, let alone extreme metal. It has technicality so it demands your attention and concentration. It has variety by the truckload, so you’re never bored and you’re always kept on your toes. And it has some absolutely beautiful melodies and atmospheres weaved within it. ‘Urn’ simply gets better and better the more I listen too, as new things jump out at me seemingly with every spin.
But arguably, what I enjoy the most about Ne Obliviscaris and this record in particular, is the really sophisticated juxtaposition between the technical and the organic.
Take the violin of Tim Charles for the perfect example…. Then there’s the contrast between the gruff vocals of the enigmatically-named Xenoyr and the clean delivery of the disgustingly talented Tim Charles… I also marvel at the melodic sensibilities that this band displays.
Ne Obliviscaris have put together a near-flawless masterpiece with ‘Urn’. It is the sound of the progressive death metal genre being ripped apart and reassembled in the most spectacular fashion. The bar has been set, the gauntlet has been thrown down, and only time will tell whether another will surpass this incredible record. ‘Urn’ is intelligent, ambitious and above all, magical. I love it and if you love heavy, technical music, you’ll love it too. Of that there is no doubt.”
Read the full review here.
I’m pretty sure my quotes above from the review give you a decent clue as to why this record finds itself at number 4 in my end-of-year list. In any other year, it is possible that ‘Urn’ might have been in the top one or two, because it genuinely is that good.
Indeed, by some considerable distance, ‘Urn’ is easily the best extreme metal album of 2017. And the reason for that is simple: everything about it is right on the money. It is clinically brutal for large parts during which the drums pummel with relentless blastbeats, the guitars scythe with razor-sharp riffs and the growled vocals deliver their diatribes with a barely-disguised malevolence. For those that enjoy their music heavy, this is simply glorious stuff.
The technicality on display only adds, in my opinion, to the extremity of the music. The technique of each individual musician is breath-taking and as you listen, you get the distinct feeling that you are listening to a very special band indeed, with the ability to accomplish anything that they want. In Ne Obliviscaris’ case, it is extreme progressive death metal and as good as ‘Citadel’ was, this follow-up effort totally eclipses it in my opinion.
What makes this album so phenomenally powerful however, is the way in which the quintet manages to blend the technicality with something much more human and organic, not to mention something extremely beautiful and occasionally fragile and delicate. I explore this dichotomy in my review but suffice to say that I find myself totally beguiled by the manner in which the Australians switch from all-out intense shred mode to all-out serene melody in a heartbeat. It makes the material on ‘Urn’ utterly compelling, highly enjoyable and fascinating in equal measure.
I waxed lyrical about the record at the time of its release but I have to confess that it just gets better and better with each subsequent listen. I would say that it gets better the more familiar I become with it, but truth be told, I’m still exploring everything that it has to offer. There is so much going on within each of the tracks that it is impossible to hear it without devoting considerable time to it. A lick here, a violin melody there, a drum fill here and a bass note there; I literally discover something new every time I press play. Even now, a good couple of months after hearing it for the first time, I’m not convinced that ‘Urn’ has revealed all of its considerable secrets.
And it has to be said that, with time, the central melodies within each track become ever more resonant to the point that they give me chills when I listen. The intro to ‘Eyrie’ (which incidentally remains my favourite track by a gnats whisker) is utterly sublime and spine-tingling, made all the more powerful thanks to the way in which this gorgeously rich soundscape topped by fabulously passionate clean vocals, so starkly and effortlessly transforms into a gigantic wall of brutality, the equivalent of being hit head-on by a freight train. But importantly, the melodies are not lost within the tumult. Instead they are merely enhanced by the surrounding robustness of the music.
I could throw a million superlatives in the direction of ‘Urn’ but instead, I’ll restate my previous comment and say that with it, Ne Obliviscaris have, without doubt, delivered the best extreme metal album of 2017 and by some considerable margin. I simply adore this album.
If you missed either of my 2017 ‘honourable mentions’ posts, here they are should you be interested:
Previous posts in my 2017 Top 30 countdown:
Album of the Year 2017 – Number 5
Album of the Year 2017 – Number 6
Album of the Year 2017 – Number 7
Album of the Year 2017 – Number 8
Album of the Year 2017 – Number 9
Album of the Year 2017 – Number 10
Album of the Year 2017 – Number 11
Album of the Year 2017 – Number 12
Album of the Year 2017 – Number 13
Album of the Year 2017 – Number 14
Album of the Year 2017 – Number 15
Album of the Year 2017 – Number 16
Album of the Year 2017 – Number 17
Album of the Year 2017 – Number 18
Album of the Year 2017 – Number 19
Album of the Year 2017 – Number 20
Album of the Year 2017 – Number 21
Album of the Year 2017 – Number 22
Album of the Year 2017 – Number 23
Album of the Year 2017 – Number 24
Album of the Year 2017 – Number 25
Album of the Year 2017 – Number 26
Album of the Year 2017 – Number 27
Album of the Year 2017 – Number 28
Album of the Year 2017 – Number 29
Album of the Year 2017 – Number 30
And from previous years: