I struggled with score like Rush Limbaugh with regular colossal gas problem of Hitleric proportions. Everything screamed 6/6 no doubt, genius, no flaws, best album ever and all that after merely the 1st spin. I struggled because no one would say Beethoven's 5th Symphony (a worthy comparison, believe me) was too mellow or needs trimming. But I remember when Prey for Nothing's "Defiler" said in an interview how he'd learn more from 7 than 10 and when all yell perfect on your debut, get better critics. My inner still small voice was whispering "you know something is wrong, gotta give more spins". So I did. And two things happened simultaneously, things that were emphasized with two additional spins for a total of four: it started dawning on me why this album is louded as a revelation, because it certainly is, and the second thing was that that realization also revealed the album's flaws.
Now, these aren't flaws like you can pinpoint on, say, Sepultura's "Roots" or Machine Head's "The Burning Red". It's not that easy. You must first feel the pulse of this album, a raw open wound screaming for retribution, and, like many flawed masterpieces, accept it for what is, kind of like you had to do with Opeth's "Heritage" (although I have yet to see one review with a perfect score on that one). Then it will become vulnerable in your eyes, ears and heart and will show you its imperfections, which are not many, but significant enough to lower the score by an entire point.
The Opeth reference here works on many levels, one of which is related to the album's weaknesses. I think Opeth's debut, "Orchid", had that nebulae of ingenious potential yet it also had many, so called, "shoegazing" moments, moments that will later contribute to the overall mellowing down of the Opethian monster, whereby it would morph into something that is both something else entirely and yet very much itself. There's something to be said, however, for the fact that NeO's debut is actually far superior to Opeth's. Despite obvious similarities (notice the "O" emphasis in the name) NeO's take on the style is, to borrow from Pantera, far beyond driven. No, by no means can it be said that these extremely talented Australians peaked on "Portal of I". But I fear that having revealed so much of themselves already, they may have a hard time dropping our jaws on the subsequent releases. After all, it took Opeth some time to get to where the band started to feel a little less fresh and innovative.
Ne Obliviscaris (Latin "Lest We Forget" or "Do Not Forget") exceeds in the aggressive, monumental and epic passages that recall the most brutal shades of Opeth, Borknagar or Agalloch. But they aren't as convincing when they mellow down before the next storm. The first two tracks, for example, tend to use too much repetition of the calm build up passages. I get it - they are necessary to emphasize the crushing power of the black/death attack combined with phenomenal PLAY of the violin. I use all capitals because, arguably, the violin virtuosity of extraordinaire Tim Charles (who also handles clean vocals WHILE playing the violin) is the most astounding and unique aspect of NeO's sound. And when this violin lives and breathes along the extreme growls and thundering guitars, NeO truly shines. Hell, I just want to do an interview with NeO just for the violins alone! Still, the trimmed "build up" would have hit me harder, while, instead, I often unconsciously find myself wishing "they'd just get to the point", although there's no telling of how much of it is just my ADD talking.
There are some internet critics who point out that the most likely reason for such tremendous length (over 75 minutes on one disc!) is that three out of seven compositions here are rerecorded versions of the same that were released on the preceding ep. I have never heard that ep, so I am both glad they included it here, and I don't care. Having said that, I would suggest trimming track 1,2 and 4 (title track in translation). Especially track 4, at a whopping 12+ minutes gets quite self-indulgent, meandering for some 4+ minutes, although, admittedly making up for it with the composition's remaining minutes. Track 3, surprisingly gets there much faster, and with this proper balance becomes one of standouts for me.
But the absolutely best and the catchiest track has got to be "As Icicles Fall" (6th) fairly Swedish melodeath influenced beast, sporting riffs not out of place on a Killswitch Engage or All That Remains album. Tim's vocals, too, remind me of Adam Dutkiewicz's or Phil Labonte's patented romantic croons, but are so balanced by now typical black/death metal, now the "roar of 1000 lions" utterances (courtesy of Xenoyir) that it is far from grating or even annoying. The lions' utterance has a semblance of Mikael Åkerfeldt's as well as George Cosmatos's (Be'Lakor) and Paul Kuhr "Novembers Doom" but overall is an entirely different, more brutal animal, and, next to the use of violin, accounts for the uniqueness of Ne Obliviscaris's music.
Another thing that deserves special recognition is Jens Bergen's (Kreator, Paradise Lost) fantastic production, possibly the best in his entire career as a producer. Bergen achieved a brutal, raw and "underground"-tinged sound with amazing clarity and attention to detail. Everything is mixed in the right proportions and the effect is more epic than 100 tapdancing Jesuses at a funeral. I say funeral, because this album is tremendously oppressive and depressive. Some claim they hear hope on " Portal of I" but all I hear is despair and anguish, similar to what one gets after communion with Katatonia, Novembers Doom or My Dying Bride.
The response to this album, as is the case with any work of genius, has been either disappointment or total unquestionable awe and to me none seems agreeable. It is, no doubt, a must have, and despite some flaws and a 5/6 score I don't anticipate anyone dethroning it from my number 1 this year. Ne Obliviscaris have not just created an awe-inspiring black/death progressive rock/metal album or whatever the hell you want to call their style. With "Portal of I", a new genre was born, classical metal. True, it may not take and people may not start using it as a reference, but I couldn't care less-that's just how I feel about it.
The final decision to decrease the score from initially intended 5.5/6 was made due to a rather dubious ending of the whole thing. This is the least impressive part of "Portal of I", a calm, meandering passage that ends with a low-pitched, gradually increased in volume, ear-piercing noise that's suddenly cut off. I would have preferred to have my head sheared clean off and shoved up my ass kind of an ending. Major and minor gripes aside, as well as some doubts they'd be able to sustain this incredibly high level of complexity, skill and compositional ability expressed earlier, I am overall fairly confident their follow up will completely hand my head to me whereby I will have had no choice but to award the magic 6/6. After all, though there certainly is room for improvement, what's on the table is already very very good.
Rating: 5 / 6
Composed by Dethster4life