The Oath’s debut 7” contained two prime cuts of ominous, buzzing, classic rock with an irrepressible feminine energy – something many would agree has been on the rise in modern metal circles. Bands like Purson, Jess and the Ancient Ones and Blood Ceremony have all cast Venusian spells on listeners the world over, and all have their own unique spin on the classic British sound some folks call ‘Heavy Metal’.
The presence of women in metal is something to be celebrated, no doubt about it. The testosterone rush that metal provides naturally attracts (admittedly male) dunderheads and kvlt maniacs that find it all too easy to ignore or disparage ‘chicks’ making heavy music, but the best metal bands are the groups that attempt to elevate their sound above crass crowd-pleasing measures and into something intellectually stimulating, all the while keeping their heavy vibes intact.
This notion of music as art is completely non-discriminatory, and wholly involving. Imagine ‘War Pigs‘ without the biting political undertones under the crushing riffs. Imagine ‘Abigail‘ without the Gothic melodrama (and ear-piercing high notes) on top of the steely chugging. It just doesn’t work does it? A lot of the effect that music has on listeners is decided by the story behind it. Ergo, bands that model themselves after their heroes but forget what made their heroes so entertaining in the first place (I’m looking at you, Vidunder) would do well to revisit their favourite material with their thinking caps on.
There are no such problems here: there are women, new ideas AND hero-worship that doesn’t turn into dead-eyed plagiarism. The Oath first demonstrated their immense abilities on ‘Black Rainbow’, from the second side of that debut 7”. It rolls along on a barrelling Lemmy-esque rhythm before mutating into a gloomy ‘dark metal’ cut – the same sonic brew of Mercyful Fate (the band name might be a clue), Samhain and early Priest that Swedish cult heroes In Solitude made sexy with last year’s titanic ‘Sister’. It’s also this unholy mix of ripping riffs and Gothic overtones that made records like ‘Lucifuge’ and ‘Carnival Bizarre’ so appealing twenty-odd years ago. Danzig and Cathedral built on the same influence (the first five Sabbath records), but crafted their individual, completely distinguishable, sounds from American muscle or Midlands humour.
The Oath is completely metropolitan – vocalist Johanna Sadonnis is German, guitarist Linnea Olson is a Swede, bassist Simon Bouteloup is French, drummer Andrew Prestridge is a Brit. The names they’ve all been associated with is impressive: Prestridge drums for the disinterred Angel Witch, Bouteloup was part of the French mind-alterers Aqua Nebula Oscillator and Teutonic beardies Kadavar, while Olson was once a part of underground heroes Sonic Ritual (there are about a thousand bands named Sonic Ritual, but she was part of a good one.) The women at the helm of the project have previously been joined by ‘Righteous’ Leo Smee of Cathedral on bass, if you like trivia. All in all, a sterling lineup.
The music here is a tasty buffet, to be sure. Opener ‘All Must Die’ is a powerhouse – sounding like Danzig circa 1990 on a serious protein ‘n’ doom binge. The chunky, muscular riff causes involuntary neck muscle spasms, causing the listeners’ head to nod forward at a constant rate. There must be a name for that somewhere, no? The lyrics are about Satan and death and night skies – we’re a wolf short of a full house. The music throughout is very, very, very similar to In Solitude, but that can only be said as a compliment (many a music fan rues not placing ‘Sister’ higher on their end-of-year countdowns, trust me). It can’t be inferred that the similarity is some kind of dodgy trick, either, they both have the same influences and In Solitude’s Henke Palm contributes some solos throughout, apparently.
Second track ‘Silk Road’ (they’ve either been at the history books or they’ve been doing some interesting online shopping) has a bass groove that’ll rattle your fillings – the closest musical neighbour it has is the coked-up Black Sabbath of the mid-70s, with a bouncy chug completed by thunderous drums. The guitars on this track have the exactly wailing quality you want from records like this – they split the difference between 70’s metal and 80’s goth, wailing legato runs are the order of the day.
Album highlight ‘Night Child’ is a dusty, musty leather-jacket biker-rock groover – you can imagine The Oath opening for the Cult or Alice Cooper in 87 with numbers like this. Right? The riffs are thick and the bottom end thicker, and the vocal performance from Sadonnis is perfect. It’s a particular kind of horns-aloft-hip-thrusting-headbanging-whisky-soaked-beer-drenched-praise-the-lord Rock ‘N’ Roll that has produced massive hits for bands of yore – ‘Electric’, ‘Tattooed Beat Messiah’, ‘Manic Frustration’ …even Alice Cooper’s ‘Killer’ (check that motherfucker of a record out immediately if you’ve never heard it, have you been living under a rock?) has a brutal aesthetic meeting streetwise riffs in a cloud of cocaine and talcum powder. (It was on the 7”, too – what a tasty release that is).
‘Psalm 7’ (a reference to Trouble, who titled their first album ‘Psalm 9‘, or the actual Psalm about triumph over the wicked? Possibly both, possibly neither) closes the record, and it begins with a funereal tone which allows vocalist Sadonnis to fully stretch and showcase her extremely impressive vocals. About half-way in, it turns into a metal epic – pick scrapes, galloping riffs and dual-guitar leads.
7” B-side ‘Black Rainbow’ shows up here but it’s vastly different from the version you can find on bandcamp (although that could just be my headphones). It sounds clearer, the sound is more direct and has a greater attack. All of these things are positives, too – there’s a time for lo-fi, this ain’t it. It’s a killer tune.
Other highlights are the penultimate tune ‘In Dream’, which is a reflective, acoustic-guitar interlude a la Orchid, only half the speed. It gives you a chance to relight your reefer, at any rate. ‘Leaving Together’ features some amazing drumming, and a stunning outro that pumps and thrusts out of the speakers.
The other selections are great too. Basically this is recommendable to just about anybody. It’s polished enough for those of you out there that prefer your metal gleaming, and enough dirt and grime to appeal to fans of just about any hard rock band that hit their peak in the mid-seventies. It’s a whirlwind ride through a gloomy netherworld, and is a fucking blast. Well worth checking out. Oh, and they’re playing with Uncle Acid on their European Tour.
Scribed by: Ross Horton