Oak – Disintegrate Review

After submerging myself in copious death metal throughout January and early February, Steel‘s well-seasoned body needed a soak in the soothing tides of funerary doom-death. And so I happened upon the sophomore release by Portugal’s Oak. The side project of Gaerea lead guitarist/vocalist, Guilherme Henriques and featuring various current and former Gaerea members, it attempts a style far afield from what that black metal outfit is known for. This is classic funeral doom death across the boards, though it has a fair amount of blackened elements bubbling up as well. The gimmick here is that Disintegrate is but one 45-minute track. Not realizing this until I was committed to the promo, this sent a cold chill up my ape-ish spine. 45 minutes is a lot of time for things to go sideways when dealing with just one song. So how does Oak fare in the grand funeral doom sweepstakes? Let’s just say they don’t come apart as the title might imply, but you might.

Disintegrate is a wide-ranging, sweeping odyssey through what could well be the stages of grief. It opens with soothing post-metal-esque guitar noodling, keeping things sparse and ethereal to ease you into their world without resistance. Instruments slowly join in with stoic minimalism, and it isn’t until the 3-minute mark that the song truly roars to life with a mammoth death bellow by Guilherme. This trumpets the onset of the doomy, despairing guitarwork that will be your near-constant companion on this voyage of the damned. These trilling, mournful guitar lines are gorgeous and soul-killing in their melancholic wistfulness. Guilherme’s deep, tooth-rattling death vocals pair perfectly with these emotive leads and everything is set to maximum despair. Guilherme’s playing is often kept minimalist and reminds me of what A Swarm of the Sun did so well on albums like The Rifts. The sparse, despondent playing and tranquil moments with little going on allow sudden upswings in intensity like the one occurring at 8:13, to really hit hard and shake you up. This kind of dramatic framing works throughout the album’s run, wringing pain and pathos from the listener.

You’ll be through the first 12 minutes before you even realize it, which is a credit to the compositional smarts at work. It’s around this time the first dose of blackened sounds hit with the sudden appearance of blastbeats and trilling, trem riffs. It actually feels like a cathartic release by this point after so much wallowing in the deep sadness. Subtle keyboards adopt a vaguely ecclesiastical texture for added texture and you’ll begin to feel a part of an actual funeral by this point. Around the 16-minute mark the blackened influences grow in prominence, especially in the anguished vocals, but they never usurp the everpresent doom-death atmosphere. After a long bout of contemplative, subdued moods, things erupt into harsh, crushing doom around the 25-minute mark for the album’s most satisfyingly massive, earth-shaking moments where Oak truly comes into their own. The run from minutes 25 through 28 is truly titanic and segues into some especially hellish blackened moments with deranged, feral vocals that would suit any one-man DSBM basement opus. The pacing and the ebb and flow throughout are truly inspired and make 45 minutes pass much faster than you expect. This is the rare extra long-form song that can be enjoyed in its entirety without a mega-dose of Adderall. I didn’t find myself clock-watching on any of my trips through Disintegrate, and the album functions as a time distortion device where you lose three-quarters of an hour without realizing it. Could certain segments be trimmed? Sure. Could this be an even more dynamic experience at 40 minutes? Definitely. Does it work at 45? Absolutely!

Guilherme Henriques handles guitar and vocals and I have to assume he did the bulk of the composing, so hats off to the man for pulling this off at such a high level. His guitar work guides you from emotion to emotion like a master storyteller and you come to realize he’s wantonly toying with your feelings by album’s end. Vocally he knocks it out of the park with a stunning collection of death roars and groans and a cadre of disturbing blackened croaks and screams. Former Gaerea drummer Pedro Soares handles the kit with aplomb and Gaerea bassist Lucas Ferrand also impresses, even stealing the spotlight at times. Gold stars all around for this tour de force through pain and suffering.

If you can imagine early Swallow the Sun teaming with A Swarm of the Sun to create the best doom-death album possible, you get a sense of what Oak achieved with Disintegrate There’s enough diversity of style and approach to keep things interesting over its 45 minutes and the result is an achingly beautiful, emotionally harrowing musical voyage that will leave marks on your eternal soul. This should NOT have worked this well, but it does. Now you need to endure it. Repeatedly.

Rating: 4.0/5.0
DR: 10 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Season of Mist
Websites: oakdoom.bandcamp.com | facebook.com/oakdoom
Releases Worldwide: February 10th, 2023

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