CONCERT REVIEW: NE OBLIVISCARIS Prove To Be Of The Contemporary Prog-Metal Leading Lights (October 15th, 2023)

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As much as there is to appreciate Opeth‘s contemporary sound, they left a gaping void in the death metal world when Mikael decided it was time to go completely retro. There’s certainly no lack of talent in the prog-death scene, but Opeth‘s heady use of lush texture and mesmeric repetition paired so bewitchingly with their seemingly immutable dedication to the light and shade approach to songcraft that I feared said void might remain vacant indefinitely.

Ne Obliviscaris to the rescue. Though I’d been aware of the Aussie titans for some years, I was too far gone in the struggle of single dadhood to pay much attention to the rising stars of metaldom to give them the time they deserved. But holy shit did they knock my ass out when I first saw them in Austin when they stopped there in support of their mighty 2017 album “Urn.” An instant covert, I wasted no time in obtaining physical copies of their entire discography, and getting to know their output filled a vacuum that hadn’t been properly satisfied since “Ghost Reveries” – easily my favorite metal album of all time – had dropped over a decade earlier. “Eyrie” in particular struck me because never before had I heard extreme metal so objectively beautiful. I was freaking hooked.

 Six years and numerous setbacks later, they returned to headline in Texas on October 15, 2023 in San Antonio’s Rock Box on the strength of the excellent “Exul.” But as strong as the tour package was, it was not immune from plague. Canadian tech-death label-mates Beyond Creation were down to a three-piece this time around, and Andorra’s Persefone (whose chilling “Aathma” closely challenged “Urn” for 2017’s metal album of the year, and whose “Spiritual Migration” is my favorite metal album of the 2010s) sadly had to drop from the bill. In their place were Australia’s The Omnific, whose guitarless instrumental tech weirdness begs for the love of Polyphia fans.

Unfortunately, I missed them, though a bullet train might have prevented that. Beyond Creation were already more than halfway done through their bloodthirsty set by the time my bitch ass finally returned from a weekend getaway in my native Houston. I remain staunchly inflexible in my conviction that these carnivorous Québécois offer the finest in their genre: I’d actually feared that the mellowness that greeted me when I arrived at the Rock Box was NeO, but the brutality that ensued when I actually walked through the doors perversely set me at ease. Not since Derek Roddy‘s stint with Hate Eternal has music this visceral been so intricately laced with finesse, and I’d venture to say that Beyond Creation may actually be heavier with only bandleader Simon Girard on guitar.

BEYOND CREATION Photo Gallery:

The hex that beset this tour seems to have started during the pandemic, when drummer Dan Presland announced that the album that became “Exul” would be his last with Ne Obliviscaris. It continued when Persefone had to withdraw and culminated when NeO honcho Marc “Xenoyr” Campbell ran into some health issues that prevented him from partaking in the tours. In his place was James Dorton of Black Crown Initiate, who did a marvelous job filling in for Xen while honoring his role as a hired gun; Dorton humbly deferred to NeO singer/ violinist Tim Charles at every turn for the frontman stuff, and by this point in the touring cycle, Charles had noticeably embraced that temporary role. From the opening arpeggios of “Intra Venus,” Charles was indeed in charge of both his band and his adoring audience, engaging with them in a manner only outdone by the likes of Mikael Stanne.

On the drum throne was new guy Kevin Paradis, whose skill and delivery have earned him the approval of NeO‘s notoriously scrutinous fans. Also, not one to steal the spotlight from the real stars of this show – that would be the songs and the group’s performance thereof – Paradis selflessly pummeled the intro to “Equus” alongside new-ish bassit Martino Garattoni for a chilling rendition of one of the finest compositions in NeO‘s intimidating repertoire.

Sadly, a few technical glitches made several unwelcome appearances throughout the set in the form of feedback, uneven vocal mixes, and delays in Charles’ channel. But NeO are nothing if not pros, and these obstacles did nothing to deter them from delivering yet another blistering performance. The stoic presence of lead shredder Ben Baret almost cartoonishly countered the rock-star panache of Garattoni andguitarist Matt Klavins, to say nothing of Tim’s boyish enthusiasm. Dorton for his part menacingly stalked the stage when the song demanded his subterranean growls, and would wisely exeunt thereafter to allow his benefactors to bask in the spotlight. Even with a noob and a scab, and their bandleader half a world away, Ne Obliviscaris are not a band that will let a few setbacks ruin a performance. Hell, if you let them rip through a face-melting rendition of “Graal,” you might even catch a glimpse of a long-haired violinist wailing away in the photopit.

The problem with bands like Ne Obliviscaris is that set times are generally not long enough to satisfy every audience member, especially when roughly half the set consists of new material. “Citadel” and “Portal of I” were represented by a lone song each, for example. But the inclusion of “Devour Me, Colossus” from the damn-near perfect “Citadel” was enough to send even the blackest hearts home happy. The set closed with the compulsory “And Plague Flowers the Kaleidoscope,” the Trve Avstralian Tango Metal of which has perhaps earned this remarkable band the most notice, though I suppose that tour with Cradle of Filth and that appearance on the YouTube channel Lost in Vegas didn’t hurt either.

Tour turmoil notwithstanding, Ne Obliviscaris is once again proving to be one of contemporary progressive metal’s leading lights, and a worthy successor to the prog-death throne Opeth abdicated over a decade ago. For a band so full of innovation and drive to still have a full tank in them over twenty years into their career is not just remarkable, it is indeed a blessing from the gods below.

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