Ne Obliviscaris on Exul: ‘The songs sound exactly as they should be’

The pinnacle of contemporary progressive, extreme metal presents its fourth album called Exul. The Australians of the vaunted Ne Obliviscaris are back after six years with new music, which manages to make a crushing impression unabated. So it is about time for Zware Metalen to catch up with one of the band’s masterminds, violinist and vocalist Tim Charles!

Hi Tim, congratulations on Exul! The fans can be happy that you managed to stay together despite the terribly challenging period we all had to endure. Only drummer Dan Presland chose to focus on his new band, Black Lava, after sixteen years of Ne Obliviscaris. Could you please tell me what is the one thing that keeps you together, despite the geographical differences as well?

I guess if I were to choose one thing it would simply be the love of music. In particular, the music we create, but beyond that, we all have this enormous desire to create and perform music and it’s through that shared passion that we come together and create Ne Obliviscaris.

When we met at FortaRock in Nijmegen in 2019, you told me that you had learned a lot from the past three albums, so you were very confident that the new record is going to be the best you guys have released. Again, I’m incredibly impressed with your mastery. A beautiful crown on your twenty years of existence! How do you like the reactions to Exul so far?

Well, to be honest so far we haven’t really heard much feedback on the entire album seeing it’s not out and reviews haven’t arrived yet! But the feedback for the two singles, Equus and Graal, has been absolutely incredible, and from the small number who have heard the album the response has been very exciting for sure. We were really confident the singles from Exul be well received, but it’s been even better than hoped. Definitely a big step up from anything we’ve released before in regards to the overall level of excitement and just the number of people listening and checking us out which is great.

You told me that nothing can be perfect. Did the extra time/opportunity for Exul make you think some pieces do sound perfect at this point?

Instead of “perfect” I think a more accurate way for me to describe the songs on Exul would be that they sound “exactly as they should be”. The songs on Exul are a reflection of this moment in time. They are a combination of compositions influenced by real-life happenings. Performances were done by genuine but flawed humans. Humans that then had to try to find a way to record and mix those performances to bring the raw emotion present in the music to life. Each aspect of this album was painstakingly approached for Exul and I am so proud of the result. I know this album is a genuine reflection of who we are as individuals and collectively as a band, and that is all I can ever hope for.

You mentioned that your family is very supportive of your work for Ne Obliviscaris. Is it true that your sister also plays violin for Equus and Misericorde I & II? And that your ten-year-old daughter Amélie stars as a violinist in the clip of Graal? You must be such a proud father then!

Yes, that is true! My sister Emma is a professional violinist herself, and she has actually played some additional violin parts on every album since Citadel. Whenever you heard a violin section on one of our songs (as opposed to a solo violin) it normally is a mixture of multiple takes of Emma and me layered on top of each other. It made sense to then ask Emma to be in the video for Equus seeing she was then playing parts that she had helped record in the studio for us!

Working with my daughter, Amélie, on the Graal video was so much fun! Xen and I were trying to work out how to handle that part of the video as there are so many layers of violin and viola and even clean vocals which are all performed by me in the song. So just like we had Emma bring to life some parts in Equus, it was great to give Amélie the opportunity to perform that part and be an important part of sharing that song with the world.

Speaking of that clip, great that Martino is also spotlighted so well in it, as I suppose he had also contributed some ideas for Graal.

Yes, Martino was the primary songwriter for the guitar riffs featured in Graal as well as of course his bass parts. He did a wonderful job and Xen was conscious of showcasing him a bit in the Graal video seeing it was his first music video (finally!) since he joined Ne Obliviscaris back in 2017.

Could you please share a bit more about the theme? With Equus, it was clear that it was about the forest fires in Australia and Mother Earth being on fire. But “exile” can be found in numerous ways.

All of the songs on Exul deal with some form of unwanted departure. From being an outcast, displacement from one’s normal life, dealing with the concept of dying, et cetera. With Ne Obliviscaris the music always comes first and then Xen takes time to tap into what themes the music invokes in him and then he takes it from there, develops it, and brings it back to us once fully formed. I think he’s done a brilliant job of tying together Exul thematically.

When you guys write, you just want to make good music. In the period since Urn, have there been any new artists that have been inspirational to you?

I guess in regards to artists I’ve been listening to a lot in recent times. ChvrchesScreen Violence album is one I have had on a really high rotation the last few months. Jacob Collier is an artist I just discovered the last year. I had the pleasure of seeing him live a couple of months ago and wow what a wonderful musician and performer he is. Another album I just recently returned to this week was Job For A Cowboy’s Sun Eater. Not a new album (2014), but regardless a masterpiece prog metal album that many people don’t know that well seeing the band disappeared soon after its release. Some other artists I’ve had on high rotation in recent times include Leprous, Persefone, Allegaeon, Northlane, Architects, Der Weg Einer Freiheit, Coldplay, Plini, Common, Hamilton soundtrack…  Plus the soundtrack for Matilda the Musical, which is Amélie’s favorite at the moment! That list is quite the mix!

Misericorde II: Anatomy of Quiescence I think is perhaps the most impressive song on Exul. What a crescendo! Goosebumps! How do you manage to transcend your level again and again?

Thank you so much for the kind words. This is a song that I wrote most of and so it is a special one for me also. This track and all the violin and string parts (including that epic ending) were actually written at a time when I had just found out my mother was dying of terminal cancer. And whilst the song is not about that per se, it was partly born out of me burying myself in my music and creativity whilst I searched for a way to handle that unexpected life turn. I think the desire to continue to explore is what creates the opportunity to exceed what one has done in the past. I love what we have done previously, but creatively I like exploring.

Your work has always played a lot with the brutality of metal and the elegance of the violin. Misericorde II: Anatomy of Quiescence pretty much takes the pace back and puts a lot of emphasis on quiet elements that work very well, especially when combined with the acceleration at the end. Did you guys think a lot about how to do that again for this album?

We definitely didn’t go into writing with a specific plan, instead it just naturally evolves. As soon as I started writing I noticed that I was adding more layered string parts and focusing more on extended repetition and development (e.g. much of Misericorde II and Equus) this time around compared to Urn. For whatever reason, that is just what came out and is something I felt inspired to explore. It is a wonderful thing when those seeds turn into something people can enjoy and connect to once delivered in final form.

Was Equus a song that you guys have shortened considerably?

Interesting question! The short answer is no. To explain further: early in the writing process, Equus was a different song… It was about ten minutes in length and the first four minutes were what you hear in Equus, but after that, it went off in a totally different direction. I was not happy with the flow of the song and despite a few attempts, we couldn’t get on the same page in regards to how to make the song flow from start to finish. We had lots of great ideas in there but it wasn’t working. In the end, I went over to Matt’s house one night and we tossed everything after the four-minute mark in the bin and completely re-wrote the rest of the song with new ideas that flowed non-stop all the way to the end. The final structure of the song, clean vocals, and strings were then all done within a few days after spending many weeks struggling with the original version.

Could you maybe already tell if the new drummer will be a permanent member of the band or just joining the world tour this year?

In general, whenever we bring someone on the road with us it’s with the intention of an ongoing relationship and them becoming a member of the band. But of course, one must go out on a few dates before you get married! As it’s not just about whether someone is a good musician and person, but also being the right fit within the group which you only ever know with time together. The new drummer we are working with now is simply incredible and we’re so really excited to get on the road with him.

How do you think you can best experience Ne Obliviscaris‘ music?

My personal favorite way is live in concert, but getting some nice noise-canceling headphones so one can listen to the finer details of the mix is an important element in getting to know the song as well. So ideally people get to experience both in time!

Last time we spoke, you also mentioned that we could expect a reissue of Portal Of I. Is there any news about that yet?

This is something that unfortunately got delayed further as simply we didn’t have enough money to print them due to the pandemic. It is something we expect to finally happen during the course of 2023 though.

How are things going with your Patreon? The Order of the Ne Obluminati is expanding?

Things are going great, though honestly, it was very difficult during the pandemic. We felt like we couldn’t really advertise our Patreon seeing so many people struggling with health and job concerns and asking people to support our band during that time felts awkward. Especially when things kept delaying our album and hence we often didn’t have good progress to share. Ever since we finished Exul though things have really turned around and we’ve seen a lot of new people jump on board. The level of support from many of the people on there is just astounding. We are very grateful.

Finally, what would you like to say to our readers?

See you on the road!

Have fun on tour and see you May 14 at TRIX Antwerp and May 20 at Gebr. De Nobel Leiden! Thank you very much for this interview!