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Ne Obliviscaris – interview met Tim Charles (violin, clean vocals) & Xen (harsh vocals, lyrics)


Tim Charles: “I think that most music fans don’t realise how much their enjoyment of a song/album is influenced by the production. A great song is a great song regardless, but without a great production less people will be able to connect to it and see it shine as it truly is.”
Ne Obliviscaris werkt steeds met de grootste precisie aan albums, vandaar dat na ‘Portal Of I’ (2012), ‘Citadel’ (2014) en ‘Urn’ (2017) weer enkele jaren verliepen eer de Australische progressieve death/black metal band op de proppen kwam met ‘Exul’. Alle pech van de wereld – grotendeels door de pandemie, maar ook andere vertragingen – deed hen gelukkig niet afzien van de release van dit verbazingwekkende vierde album ‘Exul’. We stuurden een aantal vragen naar onze tegenvoeters en Tim Charles (viool, cleane zang) en Xen (extreme ruwe zang en teksten) waren zo vriendelijk om daar hun antwoorden op te formuleren. Laat deze parel in extreme progressiviteit niet links liggen, want het bondig getitelde ‘Exul’ is het uitpluizen dubbel en dik waard. Hieronder vind je dan nog het verhaal achter de nieuwe schijf.
Vera Matthijssens Ι 28 april 2023

How are you doing? You must be very relieved, because the making of your fourth full length album ‘Exul’ was fighting windmills from time to time.
Tim: ‘Incredibly relieved! 9 recording studios in 4 different countries was definitely not the plan we had in mind in March, 2020 when we first started recording ‘EXUL’, but we got there in mind which is all that matters. It’s such an exciting time to finally have this record out and to have had such an amazing response to it thus far.’

But well… let us firstly pick up the thread around the release of former album ‘Urn’. Then the world was still open for three years, so what happened after that release? Could you tour enough and did you experience a fine reception of ‘Urn’?
Tim: ‘Yes everything went really well with the release of ‘URN’. As soon as the album came out we went on the road touring and  after several times around the world from late 2017 through to June 2019 we came back home on July 1, 2019 planning to spent six months writing our new album before planning to record early 2020.’

The new album ‘Exul’ was completely written and ready to start recording early 2020. That’s why drummer Dan Presland went to the US to record drums with producer Mark Lewis, but that went different than expected… what happened?
Tim: ‘So the plan was that Dan was going to record drums in Nashville, USA with Mark Lewis in March, 2020 and then about two weeks later Mark Lewis as well as our two European based members (Benjamin/France & Martino/Italy) were going to come to Australia where we had a studio booked for a month from late March through to the end of April. The album was booked to be mixed/mastered in May and it would have been out maybe October/November 2020. Thankfully Dan was able to record drums, but whilst he was there the pandemic started to pick up pace and Australia announced 2 week quarantine for all incoming passengers on the day Dan was flying back to Australia. Thankfully he was able to get back into the country about 10 hours before that restriction came in. However that was the last good luck we had for quite some time…’

Indeed, this was only the beginning of delays, since it seems that the producer, guitarist Benji and bassist Martino even had to endure bigger problems… What happened?
Tim: ‘A few days after Dan had arrived back in Australia Martino was due to fly to Australia himself, however the Australian government announced, literally on the day he was supposed to fly here, that they were closing the borders to anyone coming from Italy due to the infection rate there. I messaged Martino who was asleep at the time asking him to call me urgently and he woke about 5am and saw my message just before he was due to drive to the airport. At that time we knew the new rule would come into place whilst he was in the air, but we had no idea if he would be allowed to enter. His flight was already going to be in the air when the new rules came into place and we couldn’t find anyone that could tell us what would happen to Martino if he hoped on the plane to Australia. In the end we decided the risk was too great for him to hop on the plane, so he stayed in Italy. Now here we are over three years later and I still haven’t seen Martino or Benjamin in person! The borders stayed closed to Australia for a couple of years and we had to find a different approach to recording the album.’

Well, the rest is history with an ongoing pandemic, but you finally did the job in seven additional studios. How come (when the world was still semi-closed)? It was only finished in July 2022, isn’t it?
Tim: ‘Well being based in Melbourne, we were actually the most locked down city in the entire world. In an 18 month period during 2020 through to late 2021 we had almost nine months worth of lockdowns. Then added to that we also had some quite bad luck especially with my vocal recording sessions which I kept booking in and then a new lockdown would happen the week they were due to start. In the end once it got to late 2021 we changed focus and I decided to record the rest of my vocals for the album from my home studio. By this time the myriad of issues had a real negative impact on my mental health and to be honest I really struggled to re-capture the mental state of mind I needed to be able to record these at the level I knew existed in what I had written all that time earlier. Thankfully bit by bit I was able to recapture that connection and delve deep back into these songs and create what I feel is my best performances to date.’

An additional profit of the isolation was that you had more time to fine-tune the written material. Did that result in major differences or only small changes? Can you give some examples?
Tim: ‘So when it comes to drums/bass & guitar there is almost no change. Drums had already been recorded and guitars/bass had been written in full. For Xen and I it made a difference though as we were maybe ¾ of the way through our parts and so that final ¼ we didn’t finish for some time. An example for myself was the song ‘GRAAL’ where I set aside my violin parts and re-wrote the solo at the end almost one year later in a way that I think was much better. I was so excited when that clicked in such a beautiful way. So whilst most of the album was already written and set, there were some moments adjusted. The other aspect was that we didn’t need to settle when it came to recording. When I had to return to recording in 2021 initially after so much time away from the songs, I was not happy with the performances. The ability to then redo them and take that time to ensure they were the best possible performances I think helped the album even more.’

Harsh vocalist Xen came up with the album title ‘Exul’. Can you go deeper into the ideas and meaning behind that word? It should be derived from ‘exile’? Is there a red thread throughout the album?
Xen: ‘There’s no conscious red thread throughout the album, but also that depends on the culture and what it refers to. If you’re referring to simply a connection between the songs then most aren’t directly connected, just that they are stories that tie into the overall umbrella concept of exile and the feelings associated. The songs deal with being forced from your home, religion, who you were, and even your body, and mind, all things which portray an unwanted departure, and something you don’t foresee a return to.’

No NeO record without a two part epic lengthy track… What is the story of the creation behind the two parts for ‘Misericorde’?
Tim: ‘Well the first part was something Benji and Martino were working on, and then like most of our songs, it then got sent through to the rest of the band and we played around with it, adjusted a couple bits, added all the leads and vocals and strings and voila we had what we thought was really quite an incredible and eclectic song. And for quite a while that was the song…but like every multi-part song we’ve ever had there was a moment where I went…what if, and kept playing around with it.

Part 2 started with just me sitting at the piano and singing, imaging a complete change of direction to balance the eclectic 7 minutes that had come before. After coming with a chord progression I like, I brought it to the band and we jammed it a bit whilst we were all together for an Australia tour back in mid 2019. We recorded that jam and I went home and took the best bits and put together a draft of the structure and then began writing all the strings and vocals straight away. This was all written at a time where I was going through some big things in my life… I had just found out my Mum was dying of terminal cancer, my marriage was falling apart… I was a mess. But during the moments writing this piece of music I felt so incredibly inspired and connected to the music. A refuge in amongst the darkness of it all.

One of the best things about what we do is the mix of songwriters within our music. The reason Part 1 & 2 sound so different as they have different primary songwriters, whist at the same time all members had creative input on both making them still sound like NeO even if the initial inspiration came from a different person. The ability to meld those difference artistic voices is sometimes very challenging to navigate, but when you get it right something like Misericorde I & II is possible. Well… something like ‘EXUL’ is possible. I am so proud of it.

Lyrically it seems to be a heavy track as well, about the final part of life. Can you tell a bit more about the lyrics of this track and how you got the inspiration for that?
Tim: ‘By the time you get to a certain age everyone has dealt with losing someone important to them in some capacity and a lot have dealt with losing someone to terminal illness. All the lyrics for the song were written by Xen and he described it saying, “I’d always been interested in the thought process of accepting the fact that your own life is out of your hands. This 2 part song is about the battle both physical and mental that one may go through on their journey to the end. What wide range of feelings like denial, anger, madness, despair to finally acceptance and relief.” Xen was of course aware of my family circumstances at the time we were writing the song, but the reality of death is such a universal thing. The one true universal thing above all others and this song delves partly into the experience and acceptance of that reality.

Violinist Tim Charles is getting better and better! He has approached his involvement in a slightly different way in the music of the band I found out. Can you go deeper into that?
Tim: ‘Thank you! This is Year 20 for Ne Obliviscaris and I do really think that as musicians we have all continued to grow and learn with each new album. I really focused on continue to push into new areas creatively on ‘EXUL’ and it’s been incredible to get such wonderful feedback upon its release.’

And there are even additional guest musicians on the album on strings… necessary with this new approach maybe?
Tim: ‘We’ve always had some guest recording musicians here and there, but this one differently kept them in the studio a bit longer. Though the primary guest that has been a part of every album is actually my sister, Emma Charles, a wonderful professional violinist herself. Essentially any time you hear not a solo violin, but a group of violins playing together that is generally several recordings of myself and several of my sister Emma mixed in together. We have developed some great techniques to make it sound wonderful and big with just the two of us and credit to Troy McCosker who did a wonderful job engineering these violin recordings on ‘EXUL’.’

I think you had a loyal partner in crime with producer Mark Lewis during these strenuous years… how far can he be seen as a professional partner or also as a friend and rock in the sea?
Tim: ‘Mark Lewis had a huge impact on this record. To be honest I think that most music fans don’t realise how much their enjoyment of a song/album is influenced by the production. A great song is a great song regardless, but without a great production less people will be able to connect to it and see it shine as it truly is. This is what we worked with Mark Lewis on with this record. After mixing ‘Urn’ together, we had him involved in producing and mixing/mastering ‘EXUL’ and just having someone helping to bring that vision to life really made a big difference. Him and I worked very closely and I think the result is the best sounding album we’ve had without a doubt.’

Can you tell something more about the song, video and lyrics of the songs you have shot video clips for, more precisely ‘Equus’ and ‘Graal’?
Xen: ‘Equus’ relates to the living displaced from their natural environment, a repercussion for the damage to the world that we’ve contributed to. What inspired that was when Australia was faced with our own disaster; the catastrophic bushfires in 2019/2020, which affected me a lot and so I wanted to reference that in the video and ultimately dedicate it to the lives lost. The video depicts both a horse succumbing to the fires, and also a dancer to help demonstrate mother earth (and everything around), and our torment and betrayal of her.

‘Graal’ touches on the subject of one’s own worth, and searching for it within after being treated as an outcast. And from that we can either embrace who we are or ultimately let the negativity overcome us. The video depicts an individual’s reality, laying beaten on the ground, and their inner journey across an arid sandscape to seek wisdom that was there all along, to then be able to choose a path… perhaps for better or worse.’

And then we only have one lengthy track left to ask a few more details about music and lyrics and that is ‘Suspyre’….
Xen: ‘Ultimately it’s an awareness of how insignificant we are, and regardless of who you are, what impact you’ve made, or how you’ve lived, whatever belief or religion, we all physically end up the same, part of everything around us, and yet ultimately nothing. What happens after to our consciousness or spirit is entirely unknown.’

Xen is responsible for the artwork. Can you tell a bit more about it and the symbolism behind it?
Xen: The art is a combination of various lyrical references which form into a single focus. It depicts corruption of one’s body, the questioning of faith, the undoing of humanity, the range of emotions in our music, all surrounding a single solitary unknown figure, the symbol of an individual story, one of which we all have.’

Although it is not getting easier, touring is possible again this year. And I see you have huge plans. So what are the plans for the near future?
Tim: ‘We are so excited to get back on the road! 27 shows across EU/UK in May/June, then 31 shows across USA/CAN in October/November. We are announcing an Australia tour soon, then in 2024 we are planning tours to Latin America, Asia and more. Wherever you are in the world, we hope to see you soon!’

If there is something you like to add, please feel free to do it here…
Tim: ‘Much love to all for taking the time to check out our music and read this interview. We are truly grateful.’

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