Drum tracking for Exul, the fourth long-player from Australian extreme progressive metallers NE OBLIVISCARIS, started in March 2020. There is an ominous tone to that date: March 2020. The pandemic demarcation line. That month, Daniel Presland laid down his drums in Nashville, Tennessee, with American producer Mark Lewis. As flight cancellations increased and borders shuttered, Presland made it home literally hours before Australia closed theirs. Lewis, guitarist Benjamin Baret and bassist Martino Garattoni weren’t as lucky. They were due to land in Australia in the days that followed to continue tracking, but were forced to remain overeseas indefinitely. With recording studios shuttered throughout Melbourne, a slow, tedious, life-altering two-year grind to complete Exul ensued for NE OBLIVISCARIS.
What should have been the continued upward swing after 2017’s critically acclaimed Urn turned into the most fraught moment of NE OBLIVISCARIS’s career. Clean vocalist and violinist Tim Charles says the period “came close to breaking us completely.” It was a time filled with death, relationships breaking down, despair and financial loss. Presland, NE OBLIVISCARIS’s drummer since 2005, amicably parted ways in early 2022, throwing yet another wrench into the band’s plans.
There are, however, happy accidents scattered throughout the creation of Exul. The extra, unexpected downtime allowed the band to fine-tune and even re-write parts previously set in stone before the pandemic. Charles’s violin solo at the end of “Graal” is a prime example: His original idea wasn’t fully realized until he revisited the song in early 2021 and promptly came up with a new part. It was a classic “a-ha” moment that improved the song.
“Getting an opportunity to have a song mostly done for a year or so and then go back to it, find what you loved about it the first time and maybe even improve it in some ways was a nice silver lining from all the delays,” says Charles. “I think because we had so many delays that were out of our control, we were even more determined to take our time to make sure when the time came to record and to mix, that we ensured it was the absolute best it could be in every way.”
Seven additional studios and three more countries later, Exul was finally mixed and mastered in July 2022.
The album personifies NE OBLIVISCARIS’s distinctive, boundary-pushing ethos. The band’s trademark blend of emotion and beauty is as towering as ever, if not even more compelling, particularly how Charles’s violin lines carefully weave their way around Baret and fellow guitarist Matt Klavins’ riffing. The duality of Charles’s clean vocals and Xenoyr’s growls remains the narrative anchor, elevating songs that emanate sophistication and are a masterclass in composition.
“Our approach is always the same,” says Charles, “which is essentially to just write and see what comes out. Exul definitely had its challenges during the songwriting process. Part of the beauty of how our music comes together is that we are quite different individuals bringing an array of ideas together. From there, we work out how to combine them into something that is seamless and beautiful to us. We were determined to make this our best and most complete album yet, which definitely resulted in it taking longer. But we are so proud of this album and it’s exciting to finally share it with the world.”
The album’s centerpiece is the two-part “Misericorde I – As the Flesh Fails” and “Misericorde – Anatomy of Quiescence.” (A NE OBLIVISCARIS album is not complete without a multi-part epic!) According to Charles, Part II began by taking a song they thought was finished (Pt I) and asking, “What if after that…?” The band then wrote a section that took the piece in a new direction and what was a 7 minute song, became an almost 17 minute 2 part epic.
“The bulk of Part I was written more so by Benji and Martino,” notes Charles. “You can hear the very guitar-driven approach present throughout that track. Part II, by contrast, was written more so by myself in collaboration with others and the emphasis changes more towards expansive solos and slow-developing sections that build towards the epic finale. These two tracks are a great example of how it’s the combination of our different strengths as songwriters spread across an album that results in the sound that is ‘NE OBLIVISCARIS‘.”
Charles’s violin parts, whether on “Misericorde II,” “Equus” or “Suspyre,” exude confidence. The instrument has always been central to the band’s sound. On Exul, Charles’s violin playing is taken to another level. “I think that over the years, in regards to how my violin interacts within NeO’s music, I’ve simply continued to add more strings to my bow, so to speak,” he says. “With ‘Exul,’ I definitely explored even further the use of layers of violin and viola parts to create a more textured feel compared to other albums. ‘Mesericorde II’ was definitely a bit of a breakthrough song for me, where I felt I could utilize the strings in a way that hadn’t been done in NeO’s music before. In the end, whatever serves the song best is always the aim and having more ways of creating music makes it easier to serve the song.”
The Exul album title came to Xen when he was summing up the album’s feeling musically and lyrically. Coincidentally, it matched the experience of most people during the pandemic and the Russian invasion of Ukraine. “I think everyone at some point has felt at odds with the world around them, felt alone, cast out, or misunderstood,” says Xen. “Exul felt right to use in a broader sense and as a lone word, for we each have our own history and a story of exile.
“Overall, there’s a darker core to this album, perhaps more ominous than previous releases,” he continues. “However abstract the lyrics are, they involve some form of unwanted departure — all journeys into torment, passion, longing and even despair. They touch on the process of physical and psychological destruction that comes from that sense or reality of being exiled, whether forced from one’s land, ostracised from a community, shunned by a religion, or even simply being treated differently for being who they are.”
Touring will factor heavily into NE OBLIVISCARIS’s 2023 plans. The band will embark on headlining tours worldwide that will hit new territories. As luck would have it, the return to live show activity will coincide with the release of Exul and the band’s 20th anniversary. As one of Australia’s leading extreme metal exports, there is a distinct sense of gratitude from Charles and his bandmates. They’re looking forward to sharing it with fans when they resume touring.
“Simply getting the opportunity to perform music that we’ve written on stages around the world to people that genuinely love and connect with it,” finishes Charles when talking about NE OBLIVISCARIS’s 20-year journey. “There is something incredibly special about the energy that exists between an artist and audience at a concert and it’s an honor to get the opportunity to spend 2023 connecting with people in that way once more.”
- Xenoyr : harsh vocals
- Tim Charles : violin & clear vocals
- Benjamin Baret : lead guitar
- Matt Klavins : guitar
- Martino Garattoni : bass