Do you ever wonder what Dissection would have sounded like after Storm of the Light’s Bane if Jon Nodveidt made much better life choices and became obsessed with death metal and the original Star Wars trilogy? Yeah, neither did I, but Washington’s Hoth decided to answer that question in the form of their sophomore album Oathbreaker. The answer is: [spoiler alert] much better than Reinkaos.
Like Dissection on Storm, Hoth wisely refuse to pigeonhole themselves into one specific genre, and merge melodic death and melodic black metal into a cohesive whole, along with some fantastic acoustic segments that are both beautiful and unobtrusive. “A Blighted Hope” starts with nearly three minutes of stunning acoustic guitar, and the payoff when Hoth launches into black metal is an adrenaline rush that rivals hearing Dissection explode out of the acoustic intro to “Where Dead Angels Lie” for the first time. The dynamic mastering job on Oathbreaker lets the acoustic segments breathe, and the black/death parts hit with sufficient force. If I were to nitpick, the programmed drums, while expertly composed, have a blatantly fake ride cymbal that clashes with the rest of the great-sounding kit sometimes. Luckily, this minor quibble doesn’t damage the Oathbreaker in any meaningful way, but it is worth mentioning.
Although Dissection is the best point of reference for the general aesthetic here, Oathbreaker is not a pale imitation of Storm of the Light’s Bane, and Hoth is far from a tribute act. The duo who comprise Hoth, Eric Peters and David Dees, took what made Dissection great and added a heavier death metal influence to the proceedings, creating something that will sit very well with Dissection fans whilst still sounding fresh and vital. “Unholy Conception” has a chugging chorus with shrieks layered over growls and a fantastic lead that brings the best of the more melodic side of black metal to mind. “Acolyte of the Tenebrous Night” makes great use of a (programmed) string section, approximating what Dimmu Borgir would sound like if they added a healthy dose of death metal to their sound, listened to more Dissection, and weren’t shitty. The biggest testament to Hoth‘s songwriting prowess is “Unending Power:” it merges thrashy Swedish melo-death (think The Haunted), a chugging almost-breakdown, an interesting ambient segment, a series of riffs that combine latter-day Death with Dissection, a stunning lead that still gives me chills, and some vicious Americanized melo-death, and it all works perfectly due to each section being outstanding with a winding song structure that brings each disparate element together in a brilliant way.
While the idea of a Star Wars concept album will make some cringe, Hoth make Darth Vader’s story into a dramatic tragedy with a great musical and lyrical flow instead of a series of dumb references and in-jokes. Oathbreaker is a great record in concept and execution, and it deserves a place in your metal rotation.
Tracks to Check: “The Unholy Conception,” “A Blighted Hope,” “Unending Power”