Feb 8, 2012

Rituals of the Oak – Come Taste the Doom ...

I can see this album as creating some deeply divided opinions; and, to be honest, Australian four-piece Rituals of the Oak were going to have to pull something damn good out of the bag to convince me this time. I’m happy to report they’ve succeeded in spades, but first let me explain. Their 2009 two song demo held considerable promise, on which the band failed to capitalise with the subsequent album ‘Hour of Judgement’. It did not of course help that of the album’s five songs the best two were taken from the demo while the remaining three were positively underwhelming. The band’s contribution to last year’s three-way split with Apostles of Solitude and The Flight of Sleipnir looked set to ensure complete audience indifference – a slow seventeen minute single riff snooze-fest, the final up-tempo seconds of which reinforced the impression of a band perversely baiting their audience. .

Even more so than with their first album, on ‘Come Taste the Doom’ (a play on the title of Deep Purple’s 1975 album ‘Come Taste the Band’) it is as though Rituals of the Oak have decided to take the idea of ‘no-frills’ trad doom to its logical conclusion – to the point where are few obvious hooks onto which listeners might grab. Sabine has a strong, charismatic voice, but rarely pushes herself beyond a few well-worn vocal grooves; there are few guitar leads as such; and the production, where it should be crushingly heavy, is decidedly quiet. And yet … ‘Come Taste the Doom’ rewards patient and attentive listening. Whereas on the first album less was a bore, on ‘Come Taste the Doom’ less is truly more.

Openers ‘Here’ and ‘The Horla’ (a reference to Maupassant’s superb short story; a more interesting literary reference than the standard Lovecraftian fare) set up a template of sorts: quietly lulling clean guitar passages contrasting with well-played, minimalist trad doom; each song’s understated crescendo emphasised by the contemplative quietness of the whole. ‘On the Sixth Moon’ delivers a pagan vibe with some nicely atmospheric acoustic/rock interplay, complemented by some subtle, tricksy drumming and understated guitar harmonies. It’s lovely stuff, helping to make retrospective sense of where the band were going with the slow-core conclusion to ‘The Spell of Doom’, the first album’s closing track. ‘Serpentine Tongues’ is almost progressive in its various twists and turn, with a catchy ‘serpentine’ bended-note guitar figure pulling both song and audience out of any potential doldrums. As long-time folk-rock fan, final track ‘All Wells Are Poisoned’ was always going to draw me in. Needless to say there’s as much Sabbath as Sandy Denny here, while the electric guitar passages continue to signal the band’s love for all things Revelation and ‘Strength to Dream’ era Warning – consistent reference points throughout this album. Remarkably, an acoustic (or rather, clean electric) interlude threatens to break down into soft free-rock freakout, spazz-jazz drumming (are they brushes I hear?) almost breaking free of the underpinning guitar before the whole band marshal their forces for a final doomed assault.

The increasingly hermetic minimalism of Rituals of the Oak’s previous releases had almost lost me for good, but on ‘Come Taste the Doom’ the lack of obvious hooks drives listener interest instead of driving listeners away. In this way the band seem to have finally found their sound. While even sympathetic listeners might not find themselves humming these tunes, they will surely come back for another taste.

Words: Matthew Jamieson

Aussie customers: band's own store at  Big Cartel
International:  Northern Silence Shop

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