Sound — 8
If you judged the book by its cover, Ne Obliviscaris seem like they were born and bred in Germany or Scandinavia based on their gothic aesthetic and penchant for blending classical music elements with blackened death metal. But with the band actually hailing from the geographically-secluded continent of Australia, their success as a fresh new extreme metal band was more of an uphill struggle prior to their breakout. Originally forming in 2003, it would take years to suss out a proper lineup and record their demo, "The Aurora Veil," in 2007, which was then followed by even more lineup changes and other obstacles - including a crowd-powered petition to get their French-native lead guitarist Benjamin Baret a new Australian visa so he could continue working with the band. After years of a deliberate production process, they finally released their debut album, "Portal of I," in 2012 to much acclaim. Though the much-anticipated release of that first album from the point of their inception took nearly a decade, momentum finally seems to be building with the band now, and along with a successful crowd-sourced campaign to embark on a proper world tour, they've now released their follow-up album, "Citadel."
With "Citadel" being made so close to "Portal of I," not much has changed stylistically. With a small addition of more shoegazing elements in "Painters of the Tempest (Part I: Wyrmholes)" and the breakdown in the fifth minute of "Pyrrhic," the songs of "Citadel" are still built with the same blocks. There are plenty of intensely-dexterous blackened death metal sections, less frenzied but still powerful prog metal sections, and your avant-garde sections of jazzy instrumentation and violin solos. Though the bass still gets to be as techy and idiosyncratic or smart and jazzy as it was in the previous album, the guitars this time around are less concerned with the technical riffage and frenetic solos (save the great solo in "Painters of the Tempest (Part II: Triptych Lux)" at around the 10-minute mark), and focus on melodeath and galloping riffs instead. And of course, Dan Presland is still showing everyone why he's one of Australia's fastest drummers in nearly every moment he gets on the album.
But though the compositional qualities of "Portal of I" and "Citadel" are quite similar, the difference felt between the two albums is substantial in what they bring to the table. As "Portal of I" was produced as a collection of works, both old and new, meant for everyone to get acquainted with Ne Obliviscaris and what they're capable of, "Citadel" certainly works much better in terms of being a cohesive album, where each track was of the same litter and meant to work with each other in the order they're set in. Though their extreme prog metal cuts always contain the heavy and the soft sections, the shorter-length cuts on the album are where Ne Obliviscaris want your full attention directed to the non-metal orchestral scores; whether it's the moody and elegiac violin that goes from whimpering to banshee-esque screaming in the introductory "Painters of the Tempest (Part I: Wyrmholes)"and the dénouement track "Devour Me, Colossus (Part II: Contortions)," or the interlude of "Painters of the Tempest (Part III: Reveries From the Stained Glass Womb)" that pairs a playful violin lead with flamenco-influenced acoustic guitar sweeps, which sounds more inspired than much of the boilerplate folk-metal interludes today.
Lyrics — 8
Despite there being substantially less lyrics in total than the previous "Portal of I," Ne Obliviscaris' lyrics in "Citadel" are still as grand and fantastical as the music they make. With the general subject of this-worldly turmoil and the seeking of divine intervention and salvation in the overarching theme of the album, frontman Xenoyr takes some inspiration from famous painters that dealt with similar subjects. He gives a shout-out to Renaissance painters Pieter Bruegel and Hieronymus Bosch in "Painters of the Tempest (Part II: Triptych Lux)," and his reference to them in the song fits with the idea expressed that one's articulation of Heaven is realer than Heaven itself ("angels fall into the canvas/reaching for the light/Heaven is empty/and all the beauty is here"). Even further, the line "And Bruegel wept for the fading sun/where have all the angels gone?" may likely be a reference to the Spanish Inquisition currently underway, which also leads to the later set of lyrics about a wasteland of forsaken children and the scorning of those in charge ("Curator, Father, what have we become?").
Xenoyr also name-drops the 20th-century fantastic/surrealist painter Zdzislaw Beksinski in "Pyrrhic," which, fitting with the song's namesake and Beksinski's well-known works depicting post-apocalyptic scenes of barren lifelessness, is about the amount of suffering outweighing the good aspects of life and wondering if it's all even worth it in the end. This works hand in hand with the final song with lyrics, "Devour Me, Colossus (Part I: Blackholes)," which has the protagonist seeking absolution through a divine figure, not being afraid to combine the glorious transcendence with the macabre reality of dying ("devour me/drown me in your arms"). As that process is complete, he claims his presence in the citadel, but the idea that this location of salvation and safety for the soul isn't necessarily within a Pearl-gated kingdom, but rather, inside the divine being itself, is an intriguing ending.
Overall Impression — 9
As Ne Obliviscaris continue to show off their instrumental finesse and their brutally intelligent/intelligently brutal ethos as musicians, the most important thing "Citadel" accomplishes as the band's second album is presenting a firm and united series of songs expected from any band that dons the "prog" prefix in their genre tag; this not only makes "Citadel" impressive at face value, but it makes the album a captivating rabbit-hole worth studying every nook and cranny of. Though it took so long for Ne Obliviscaris to finally take off as the new band everyone should know about (telling all complications that obstructed their path to f--k off), they're now ready to fly high, and "Citadel" is quite the ascendance.