While I like to think I have an open mind, I really struggle to give much attention to bands that sound too close to their influences. What I mean by that is bands that have aped certain elements of their influences and taken pains to replicate certain qualities and therefore end up ripping off a signature sound. OAK are a two-piece from Portugal who it seems, on first listen, play a ripped-off take of one of the most genuine, interesting, unique and frankly awesome doom bands currently in existence; Bell Witch. It’s one thing to take from an established style, but when you’re taking from the sound of a band that’s so instantly identifiable, well – literally the first note of Lone had me wanting to turn it off.
I saw Bell Witch with Adrian Guerra at Roadburn in 2015 and then again at Roadburn in 2018 playing all of Mirror Reaper. The first time was weighty and exhilarating, the second time was incredibly sad, heavy, and beautiful. A band I really love which is unique and genuine and long may they continue. As for OAK, I take no pleasure in criticising bands, it is incredibly difficult to form one that has the potential of achieving anything, then you’ve got to keep it going and work at it, put the time and money in, and maybe then you’ll get something to show for it – but probably not. It’s not easy and shouldn’t be dismissed, and any band that gets as far as releasing anything deserves credit, but then you also need to be honest.
OAK have two members, very long songs, artwork painted by Paolo Girardi (he did the cover of Bell Witch’s Four Phantoms), and a bass tone that tries far too hard to sound like Dylan Desmond’s. They even have a song on here called Mirror. Y’know, like Mirror Reaper. I get it – these guys love Bell Witch too, and there are thousands of lesser bands they could be trying to replicate, but sometimes influence and worship just ends up sounding like a ropey tribute band. Listening to the first song it sounds like OAK might go to places that Bell Witch don’t. Some Doom-Death double kicks and well-worn Funeral Doom stuff, but all I could think when listening was that Bell Witch transcend all of that and take a style that is all too often dull and repetitive and make it vital. Imagine making one 80-minute Funeral Doom song vital!
OAK fully embrace the long song thing, but don’t currently have the means to use the time effectively. The atmosphere is lacking, the production is flat, tones are weak and boring, and the songs are basic. In particular, and in strong contrast to Bell Witch, the vocals on the first two tracks of Lone are monotonous and monotone, a far cry from the emotive dynamics of the vocals on say Four Phantoms or Mirror Reaper. There is some nice guitar work as part of the first two too-long songs on Lone, Sculpture and Mirror, with building melodies, but the progressions and use of space are obvious. Things don’t grow and develop with a natural feel and there’s a clumsiness to the transitions, made worse by the production.
It’s twisting and evil-sounding but not so intense and pushed as to compromise the atmosphere conjured by its sparseness…
A lot of people are put off by the often clinical and empty sound of too much Funeral and Gothic Doom and it’s no wonder. With all that space and time, it’s a perfect opportunity to explore something complex or profound, within or without. Howling at the wind, weeping in the darkness, screaming into the abyss. Instead, a lot of bands go for this dead, digital sound, the same you’ll find with Lone. Music like this works best when it sounds natural and alive, like you’ll find, to take an example at random, on a Bell Witch release.
After the first two songs I was ready to write the album off, but then, after those 20-odd minutes, OAK take a hard turn down the left-hand path. Track three, Abomination, with its six-minute running time, synth bedding, malevolent guitars playing off-kilter riffs, interweaving vocals, commanding atmosphere, and rousing tempo shifts, is like a completely different band. Then they continue down the same path for the final track, Maze. An up-tempo outburst with unusual guitar rhythms that lead to a dead stop, and then descend into a slow Death Metal swirl that occupies an uneasy midrange rather than the currently popular cavernous maw of low end soaked in rotten reverb.
The album closes by means of a uniquely odd hypnotic droning repetition, then the kicks and growls connect to bring things to a satisfying close. It’s twisting and evil-sounding but not so intense and pushed as to compromise the atmosphere conjured by its sparseness. The last two tracks are an intriguing and engaging listen and completely at odds with the first two.
Writing out negative criticism doesn’t feel good. I like to get excited about a release and hope that I can help turn people onto it, and I hope I can maybe help a band out. I was feeling like I’d be turning in a hatchet job, but I was happily very surprised at the shift. If I’d stopped after the first two songs I’d be warning you against an utterly forgettable by-the-numbers effort that should be served with a cease-and-desist from Mr. Desmond & Co., but it’s like OAK went away and had a look after recording Mirror then came back and put together some of the most interesting Death Metal you’ve heard in a long while (are we not sick of the Incantation clones yet?). I know it’s just their first album and fuck this guy for being so harsh, but it’s obvious that OAK are capable of much more than just doing Bell Witch on a budget. Those last two song are awesome.
Scribed by: Josuph Price