Oar – The Blood You Crave Review

Cover art, a foggy image with a sihlouetted person with a neon mantle, creates a strong artistic contrast

In the multiform sea of interpretations permitted by the tag ‘post-black metal,’ Oar direct their course towards singularly grimy, doom-laden waters. The band borrows from the likes of Amenra and Vous Autres in sinister and savage feeling, though eschewing smooth, reverb-laden tones in favor of a more suffocating vibe. The Blood You Crave, Oar’s full-length debut, builds on the denseness of 2017’s EP Sect Burner as the band attempts to put a wide ocean between themselves and ‘pretty’ black metal, and they do so solo. To travel into these ambiguous (post-)black metal waters alone is a bold move, but one which Oar are giving their all, because their music is dripping with intent.

The overwhelming aura of The Blood You Crave is one of oppression and depression. The sludgy production style that emphasizes the deeper tones, shrouds the music in a thick blanket of fog, guitar leads pushed back behind a smog of feedback. AL’s high shrieking vocals cut across this haze in effective contrast to the murk. MD’s drumming—whether a part of the sound wall or slicing through it—is just as proficient at leading a funereal dirge as a blistering assault. While there are some clear Sunbatherisms in passages of up-tempo, even glittery strumming and major key melodies (“Perfect Agony”), the stronger aspects are when Oar double down on their grittiness and keep things mournful. Guitarists JM and TB tend to forego soaring melodies for droning riffs that hang in the air (“The Blood You Crave,” “What Once Used to Bloom”)—reminiscent even of Sunn O)))—or else neo-proggy refrains (“Souls Lost in the Frost”). Even when solos creep in, an inescapable fuzz lies over the notes, muting the feel. This dense atmosphere is both a blessing and a curse; lending a murky intrigue and weight, yet sometimes threatening to nullify the potency at critical moments.

The Blood You Crave teases a proficiency for dynamism, which is belied by and occasionally marred by its blackdoom veil. Oar do get their Blood up in blastbeat-laden, tremolo-led fervors (“Doomed and Damned,” “Souls Lost in the Frost”), and these—particularly the former—are highlights. These passages allow an urgent lead melody to rise above the murk, and, in the case of “Doomed and Damned”, produce a shiver-inducing catharsis in harmonious cacophony with the blistering percussion and vicious screams. Yet the way in which the guitar sound is muffled frustratingly cuts these moments just short of greatness, good though they still are. The fluid tempo switches of “Souls Lost in the Frost” and the comparatively mellow, groovy mid-section of “Perfect Agony,” still manage to be enjoyable, even though they do feel slightly bizarre juxtaposed with buzzing distortion and leaden, thick-as-tar riffing.

A photo of the band Oar sihlouetted against the sky, with their logo in etched into a cloud-covered sky.

The album seems to teeter on an edge between its doomier and more energetic, ‘traditionally post-black’ sensibilities. One place this comes to the fore is song lengths. “Doomed and Damned” is the shining star not only for its crescendo of a final act, but because—at five minutes—it’s the shortest cut here. Elsewhere, the extended runtimes make otherwise powerful refrains anodyne. This would be solved if Oar came down more firmly on one side, either doubling down on the grime or on the glitter. As it is, the force of the near-funeral doom atmosphere of “What Once Used to Bloom” is weakened by the following overlong passages of guitar strumming that punctuate the ominous drones. The title track could also do with a trim, as it takes far too long to reach the admittedly vicious closing refrains.

Despite these gripes, The Blood You Crave still carries an emotional impact that I can’t deny has stuck with me. I’m still going to keep listening to “Doomed and Damned,” dialing back to get the last two or so minutes again and again. I just won’t be revisiting the rest with nearly as much frequency. It may not have been plain sailing this time around, but Oar should be commended for their idiosyncratic bending of styles. They might be one to watch as they hone their craft.

Score: Mixed
DR: 6 | Format Reviewed: 320 kb/s mp3
Label: Blighttown Records
Websites: oarmusic.bandcamp.com | facebook.com/oarband
Out Worldwide: January 7th, 2022

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