Written By: Nameless_N00b_14
From their formation in 2006, it’s been clear that the oath the chaps in Black Oath have taken is to keep traditional doom/occult metal in the style of Candlemass and Black Sabbath alive and kicking. Their first full length, The Third Aeon was an unsurprising but competent slab of 60-BPM epic doom dirges. On subsequent releases Ov Qliphoth and Darkness and To Below and Beyond, the band evolved their style somewhat to incorporate Gothic rock and mild progressive elements into a more distinctive brew which frontman, bassist and vocalist A. Th (not a typo) has christened “Cursed Rock Musick” (also not a typo).
If I had to explain what “Cursed Rock Musick” is, I’d say it’s what happens when you stitch together a handful of standard doom-ish riffs, overlay clean, melancholic vocals, and sprinkle with references to other, better bands. It’s “musick” designed to create and sustain a mood, without a lot of technical musicianship or frills. It’s doom, but a gentler, kinder doom, the dainty lace to My Dying Bride’s beaten and chewed leather, bereft of threat or edge. And, for all of those reasons, it’s musick that’s enjoyable enough to listen to in the moment but forgotten immediately afterward.
Only two elements stand out as something that could be called distinctive, and I don’t think it’s any coincidence they’re both linked to frontman A. Th (still not a typo). First are his capable vocals, which fit the music like a satin glove. Sitting high in the mix, A. Th gets a lot of mileage from his lightly accented, soulful delivery, though I do wish that he’d bring a bit more range, power or grit to the game for the sake of variation. Second is the commanding presence of A. Th’s bass guitar, and by that I mean a bass that is seriously all up in in your subwoofer’s business to the point of distraction. I couldn’t tell from the liner notes provided, but I’d be very surprised if A. Th wasn’t also the main songwriter, as I can’t help but get a whiff of ego every time I gave this a spin. Guitarists Gabriel and Bon R. churn out some neat minor-key riffs and leads between all the generic blather, like the riff that closes out the title track, but nothing stands out about their performances. Drummer Chris Z. dutifully keeps the beat, with a stock tone and fills that I wasn’t sure were coming from a real person until I checked the liner notes.
One of the most difficult aspects of writing a song is piecing riffs together into something that sounds like it naturally ebbs and flows. It’s a magician’s trick; a technical skill masquerading as illusion, and one that successful bands excel at pulling off time and time again. And it’s one that Black Oath still needs a bit of work in perfecting, with tracks like “Chants of Aradia” as a prime example. The first half is ripe with traditional Candlemass-style somber riffs, elevated by the vocals and a memorable chorus. The song then takes an odd left turn into Iron Maiden territory with a “Rime of the Ancient Mariner”-inspired passage before ripping into an Opeth-style gallop with a very Åkerfeldt-ian grunt. While these detours can be enjoyable in their own right, the transitions aren’t particularly seamless and serve to either upset the mood or confuse the listener. Passages like the odd black metal-ish diversion in the middle of “Lilith Black Moon,” the Ghost-like beginning of “Everlasting Darkness,” or the Seventh Son of a Seventh Son-era chants near the end of “Profane Savior” give the album the feel of pastiche rather than a cohesive work.
Lack of variation in dynamics and tone are also perpetrators in the blasé feeling this album delivers. Both the title track and “Lilith Black Moon” feature acoustic intros with similar guitar tones and the choruses are nearly identical (both sounding like Dio‘s “Strange Highways,” without Dio‘s knack for a killer hook), causing me to confuse the two tracks again and again. That same acoustic tone is also present in “Profane Savior” and “Once Death Sang,” compounding the problem. Dynamics are notably absent; as A. Th has one vocal mode—plaintive—and the accompanying riffs are acoustic, electric, or electric blended with acoustic, with no discernible variance in the level of emotion or delivery. Only “Once Death Sang,” a Gothic romantic ballad featuring guest vocals by fellow Italian Elisabetta Marchetti from now-defunct blackened doom outfit Riti Occulti, stands out as memorable. And that’s only because I can remember it as “the one with the female vocals,” as it doesn’t really go anywhere in its running time and I found myself skipping it in subsequent plays.
The best thing I can say about Behold the Abyss is that I enjoyed it while listening to it, but it’s not something I’d choose to listen to again. It neither engages nor challenges the listener at any level; emotionally or technically. It requires you bring nothing to it, and in turn it brings nothing to you. It neither beckons nor repels. This appropriately titled Abyss simply is, and with the absurdly rich banquet of metal available for the feasting in today’s day and age, that’s simply not enough.