North America has actually developed into a great purveyor of folk metal in recent times: Wilderun; Panopticon; Nechochwen; Thrawsunblat. But a new challenger approaches. Minnesota’s Oak Pantheon are already somewhat established, but only here does it sound as if their growing self-awareness and sonic investigations are yielding the results for which they’ve sought. In Pieces reveals an invigorating interpretation of folk metal, fusing Opethy dynamism and contrasting songwriting with Agallochian atmospheric black metal and emotive acoustic interludes. Its influences remain apparent but In Pieces is a sweeping yet detailed album which unveils more on each listen.
The greatest victory is the record’s exploration. It is both winding and expansive in its own structure but also invokes a vivid sense of wanderlust in the listener. Fluidly shifting between folksy ramblings, black metal, clean and harsh vocals, aggression, serenity and classically-influenced compositions including cellos and flutes, In Pieces is diverse and progressive in its song-writing. As haphazard as this may sound, there’s a good duality between focused and atmosphere-generating repetition and immediacy in strong riffs and sharp transitions. Three of the tracks are 11-minute epics which enable this evocation of a journey and depth. Sure, the record waffles for length a little too much but it largely works to facilitate this major positive. Such freedom and wildness are sadly uncommon in so much folk metal.
These long songs are where Oak Pantheon‘s ambition really shines through. They are, arguably, over-protracted but the satisfaction gleaned justifies this. Each fluctuates logically through heavy and light material and develops an overall theme before heightening for a pay-off towards the conclusion. “Climb” reaches a passage which could almost be described as speed metal with a frenzied solo, while “Enormity” has an epic and compelling vocal harmony at its climax. “GodSon” concludes the album with an exquisitely hopeful trilling riff which makes the journey undertaken all the sweeter. At the other end of the spectrum, “Float” is the shortest track, splitting “Climb” and “Enormity.” By comparison, it’s very direct in its blackened blasting but this is an ideal juxtaposition to its surroundings.
The album is produced very smoothly. Even in its heaviest moments, the tones are quite clean, resulting in an album which is somewhat lacking in grit and evil. This is unquestionably beneficial in conferring In Pieces‘s unique aura and it makes for an easy, melodic first listen, but the black metal is denied the heft it needs and there’s a distinct dearth of danger or nastiness. The mix is noticeably lacking bass and while it’s a relatively dynamic record, this whole space isn’t utilized as the bottom end is frail. The jury’s out on the production as it simultaneously benefits and hinders.
Despite this, In Pieces marks a band now forging their own way: while The Void EP, with which they began, bore similar influences, it was very self-contained and concise. This, by contrast, is exploratory and detailed, revealing a broad scope in their song-writing. It is very long but it is also very good. Their natural feel and freedom thoroughly satisfy the folk metal tag.
Tracks to Check Out: “Enormity” and “GodSon”