Season Of Mist
rating icon 8.5 / 10

Track listing:

01. Equus
02. Misericorde I – As the Flesh Falls
03. Misericorde II – Anatomy of Quiescence
04. Suspyre
05. Graal
06. Anhedonia

Dogged and delayed by a global pandemic and pieced together over a period of two years, "Exul" has been a long time coming. NE OBLIVISCARIS have never made the kind of records that can be dashed off in a fortnight. As far back as their 2012 debut "Portal Of I", they were peddling a unique strain of progressive death metal that simply aimed higher and wider than any credible equivalent. A decade on, the Australians have long since evolved into their own unique entity, defined by fearless, freewheeling compositions, formidable ensemble chemistry and the increasingly potent twin-threat of vocalist/violinist Tim Charles. Even though it was reportedly written and recorded by a band on the brink of collapse, "Exul" depicts the men of NE OBLIVISCARIS being even more magically intertwined than on their previous three albums.

The very idea of releasing the 11-minute "Equus" as this album's first preview single says it all about this band's perspective on things. Intricate and challenging by default rather than design, the music NE OBLIVISCARIS have made to date has at least seemed to be gently tethered to the recognizable. "Equus" is something else entirely; an artful but unfathomable sprawl of blurred lines and lightly worn virtuosity, with Charles's bittersweet violin top lines leading the way like searchlights in the swirling fog. Those death metal roots are still there, but displayed sparingly; often providing a steel backbone, around which the band's more outlandish ideas are then meticulously threaded. The song's final four minutes — half slow-building folk rock elegy, half melo-death show-stopper — are beautiful and beastly in equal amounts.

Next, the lavish, two-part Misericorde casts its spell. In part one ("As the Flesh Falls"),  bassist Martino Garattoni seems to defy physics with his flawless, fretless counterpoints, before a brutal, tech-death transition into eerily serene dive bar jazz tugs the carpet from beneath bewildered feet. The second part of "Misericorde" ("Anatomy of Quiescence") is simply magical, as Charles and guitarist Benjamin Baret exchange fluid fanfares across a sprawling, downbeat, old-school prog backdrop. As it builds to an absurdly dramatic conclusion, "Misericorde II" switches briefly back to demonic death metal mode, before Charles's violin again soars up and away. It's a truly startling moment.

After all that, the rest of "Exul" almost feels like a lap of honor. "Suspyre" is a strong contender for finest song NE OBLIVISCARIS have yet penned, and a reminder that a lot of so-called progressive death metal just isn't progressive enough. A relative tiddler at a neat nine minutes, "Graal" takes a scattershot, restless approach, lobbing blackened blastbeats and giant riffs into a spinning cauldron of lighter, brighter textures. The closing "Anhedonia" strips everything down to reverberant violin, mist-shrouded piano, and the nagging, persistent specter of discord and disarray.

So adventurous and original that even growl-phobic prog diehards should find enough to be thrilled by, "Exul" is what happened when NE OBLIVISCARIS were going through a challenging time. Imagine what they could do when they're more relaxed. Jesus wept.

Author: Dom Lawson
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