Thursday, September 5, 2013

Oaks of Bethel - Discography I + II



Oaks of Bethel is a side project of the prolific Njiqahdda, that mixes black metal, both harsh and adventurous, with drone, doom, and ambient music. Since 2009 Oaks of Bethel have released 8 full-lengths, 13 EPs and 1 split. The two Discography albums collects everything from the debut The Folk and the Ground to the double-album The Ghosts That We Are from 2011. More than 9 hours of music. And in chronological order except for The Folk and the Ground which begins the second part of the discography. When I enquired whether this was intentional or not, the answer was "Not really on purpose or in error, it just happened to work out the way that it did."

Which, without over thinking it too much, is also an indication of the way Oaks of Bethel works. Ian from Don't Count On It Reviews interviewed one of the two brothers behind Oaks of Bethel, and asked him "Would you say that Oaks is perhaps a bit more forward thinking than you intended it to be when it started?". The answer was basically no, plus "As fans of long songs (and winding journeys) to us it happens naturally; we just write and record. The result is what it is". And it is some of the most unique sounding music, metal or otherwise, you'll ever hear. As the review of The Folk and the Ground from The Metal Archives states "Absorbing this [music] is almost like watching a storm start, stop and pass".

I'll feature some of my favorite songs from the Discography albums, and from a couple of later eps. First up is from their third full-length Starfire, Chasms and Enslavement. Three relatively short numbers (short for Oaks, that is) lead up to the magnificent "Winterscape and Frozen Lake". A slow and utterly doomy beginning, with great examples of the Oaks vocal styles; horrific croaks and droning voices, both heavily distorted. The droning middle section features drum machine work straight out of an 80's video game, and the epic ending fully evokes a frigid winterscape with a lake clutched by permafrost.


[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]


The title track from the Plague upon Plague is one of the largest sounding Oaks of Bethel songs. The doomy riffs, the massive echo on the vocals, and the drum machine working overtime creates a sense of enormous object flying dangerously fast. So much that when the poor machine takes a breather it is almost a relief. Everything about "Plague upon Plague" is larger, the spacey droning section in the middle lasts 8 minutes, and the riffs in the last third are nothing short of colossal. "Plague upon Plague" is a great example of a song that functions more as an epic journey than an actual song.


[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]


Compared to "Plague upon Plague", "Cyclic" almost feels like Oaks of Bethel's stab at a single hit. I exaggerate off course, but some of the riffs are almost catchy, and it feels more direct and accessible than most of their songs. And certainly more like a "real" song than "Plague upon plague". The track is from the double album The Ghosts That We Are which Jon Rosenthal from The Inarguable reviewed here. He writes that Oaks' "textural black metal hymns call for longer releases and attention spans", and has this advice/warning for new listeners "This is not an every day listen; it's a commitment".


[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]


"Orange Triad" is an instrumental EP. The title (and sole) track is 24:36 minutes of guitar goodness. Featuring a lovely guitar sound, where waves of distortion pushes the song forward on top of the insistent drum rhythm. Actually the drums patterns and guitar/drum interplay are among the best produced by Oaks of Bethel; there is tension created by a hold and release technique in the playing. But most of all the huge drone/doom chords on the guitar just sounds so good.


[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]


"Disembodied I" might as well have been an instrumental too, whatever vocals it has is buried deep under the guitars. A slow, industrial doom riff is transformed by synths into an insistent krautrock style workout. Pretty progressive (though still quite harsh), and also pretty far removed from anything resembling black metal. One of those delightful surprises you'll find in abundance among the Oaks of Bethel discography. Dig in, I'm sure you'll find something you like, and probably also something you wont. But that is what it is.


[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

Tagged with 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, ambient, black metal, drone, EEE Recordings, free download, Oaks of Bethel
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