Portal of I
posted on 7/2012 By:
There are two totally valid arguments to be made about Portal of I, the ambitious full length debut from Australia's Ne Obliviscaris.
There's the one that I am pre-disposed to make. That one that goes: At 72 minutes long, Portal of I is a bit of mess, a baroque assemblage of ideas and themes that provides little in the way of concise, rewarding songs.
The counterpoint, of course, is that Portal of I is a baroque assemblage of brilliantly executed ideas and themes that doesn't need to coalesce into anything other than 72 minutes of thrilling sounds.
Ne Obliviscaris first made waves among progressive/melodic black/death metal fans in 2007 with their self-produced demo, The Aurora Veil. Portal of I continues in the same vein as the well regarded Aurora Veil, with all three songs from that release being re-recorded with an ever-so-slightly more modern gloss courtesy of Code 666 Records.
What remains commendable about Ne Obliviscaris is their ambition. On Portal of I, they compose seven massive and incredibly complex melodic/progressive black/death metal songs and perform them flawlessly. There's no shame in standing in awe of such a feat.
But you won't be wrong for questioning Ne Obliviscaris' ability to pull together all their ideas in a way that makes sense, either.
There are moments of ecstatic, overwhelming sound to be experienced here. The opening moments of "Tapestry of the Starless Abstract" -- a retread from the Aurora Veil days -- surges with Somberlain courting melodic urgency, which reminds the listener how simply pleasurable it is to hear a band play something that is fast and melodic and difficult. On "Of Petrichor Weaves Black Noise," tremolo guitars and bass, bass, sweet mother of audible bass communicate with a speed and clarity metal fans are seldom privileged to.
Of course, it's hard for any band to maintain that sort of enthusiasm over the course of even four minutes, and Ne Obliviscaris knows this. Unfortunately, they still soldiered forward with an album mostly comprising 10-12 minute long songs, and they have filled the gaps between the brilliant bits with some regrettably boring material.
Tracks "And Plague Flowers the Kaleidoscope" and "Forget Not" are saddled with the sonic deadweight of extended sections of violin meandering, which contribute Portal of I's runtime, but little else.
On the subject of that violin, it should be noted that the instrument is put to its best use on this album when it's a component of the grander melodic equation, like on the resurgent middle section of "Kaleidoscope." As a featured instrument, it accounts for some of Portal of I's most laborious movements. The vocals of Tim Charles -- who also handles the violin -- tend to grate, as well. Charles' nasal singing is competent, but is also featured during some of the album's duller proceedings, including the maudlin outro to "Forget Not."
Portal of I is an absolute winner for fans who'll either overlook its compositional flaws in favor of its performative brilliance (or those actually willing to submit to its protracted moments of cloying navel-gazing.) The challenge for others will be maintaining interest while the band spends a considerable amount of time engaging in everything but their greatest strength, which is playing hard, fast and difficult music.
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