BLACK OATH – Emeth Truth and Death (2022)REVIEW

Though they’ve typically been lumped in with the Candlemass-and-beyond strain of ‘epic’ doom metal for their patiently empyrean guitar tones and dramatic vocal cadence the occult esotericism available to Italian quartet Black Oath‘s “cursed rock musick” has developed equally in the tradition of Italian underground doom metal’s unique station. Though the sleekness of their roll and the dizzying purple abyss envisioned should spring groups like Procession and (early) Crypt Sermon to mind but we could just as easily find similar denaturation of tradition in labelmates Anguish and Abysmal Grief, with songcraft otherwise focused on a demented and callous lilting, a certain morbid melodrama all their own. As with past releases, this fifth record ‘Emeth Truth and Death‘ sports the same persistent reality Black Oath has long presented wherein there is little intention to morph the bigger picture of their stylistic abandon yet the minutiae of their spells continue to evolve in spiraling deeper-down majesty with each release.

Most learned scholars wouldn’t mistake vocalist/bassist A.Th‘s (Gosforth, The Rite) velveteen and listless vocal work for another artist in truth, as his work has developed notable signature in the span of four full-lengths since ‘The Third Aeon‘ (2011) made waves as the first of two releases with Swedish label I Hate, amplifying their energumen point of view with ‘Ov Qliphoth and Darkness‘ (2013). This’d been the peak of their early work for my own taste in terms of wielding a certain occult-doomed aggression in tune with late 80’s ‘epic’ doom metal movement. Their third record (‘To Below and Beyond‘, 2015) couldn’t put a dent in a densely populated year for my own taste; A bit lighter and a bit heavier at once, it’d alienated away from the onus I’d appreciated as a certain ‘edge’ I’d appreciated on the first two records. In hindsight it was a sort of second ‘epic’ phase for the band, ah via late 90’s Solitude Aeturnus, that’d been amplified and perfected on ‘Behold the Abyss‘ (2018). In reliving their entire discography the expectation built upon for a fifth full-length is that they’ll continue to focus upon the devastating curvature of the ‘epic’ doom metal riff within an occult-cursed point of view and the main reason to welcome another release with open arms is purely consistent songwriting, pieces which create effective mood and find some reasonable memorability in stoic movements and occasionally very direct/classicist doom metal songwriting.

Emeth Truth and Death‘ retains the subtleties of vision and voice from their past two records while recalling the solemn bind of gravity ‘The Third Aeon‘ had made such a strong first impression with. There isn’t necessarily a puritanical tunnel vision’d effect as Side A reveals its brilliancy of songcraft but each piece flows together with consistent state of mind conveyed, a levelled and fire-eyed ‘trancement of possession. Those first eighteen minutes of reveal shorten the usual ~7-10 minute song length we’ve come to expect from Black Oath down to about 5-6 minutes and there is no major concession to be found, though I’d felt there was a more consistent than ever moodiness piled up front, a long-faced mood which eventually defines this album as precedented yet different from past releases.

“Truth and Death” bares it (most) all up front between wailing chorales, an expertly lumbering riff progression, red-eyed leads darting down from the rafters to strike, and a spoken rant incensed enough to set the pulpit on fire. There are of course plenty of more subtle elements layered within the piece to smooth its rhythmic movement, such as the well-buried keyboard accompaniment and un-fucked with bass guitar tone in the midst but these will get equal points of feature somewhere along the way. As we land upon the major standout of the record for my own taste, “Serpent of Balaam”, the most pure appeal and signature of the band is most readily available in A.Th‘s voice and the striking guitar-forth aggress of their arrangements, inserting swells of ‘epic’ heavy metal leads into the plodding patient rhythms. The eventual surge into double-bass kicked speed, spiraling-out leads and growling/effect-scraped vocals heightens the greater build of the song to an unexpected place with a surprisingly natural resolve. The ear-worming menace of the lead guitar melody which directs the abysm-directed curl of “Children of Babalon” leads us into what are perhaps some of the best riff and rhythmic spectacle Black Oath‘ve presented to date, concluding Side A with argument well-enough for a worthy and potentially lasting release. They’ve set this oathlike statement with purpose at the mid-point of the full listen and to great effect.

All of Side B features guest spots from several notable artists starting with the greater enchantment of the gothic doom attuned venture of “Shroud to the Afterlife”, though it is probably my least favorite song on the record there is a sort of ‘V‘-era Vitus style interruption to it which adds to the release rather than voids it. “Death Haze” is the major spark of the second half as an miserable organ-grinder which rolls heavily into ~eight minutes of torment featuring Denial of God‘s Ustumallagam on vocals. The gothic metal interlude “Graced by Burial Ground” features Joe F. of the more recently revived Cultus Sanguine on vocals and the grand finale, “Wounded Temple” features Felipe K. (Procession, et al.) on vocals along with M. Luther (Epitaph, ex-Black Hole) likely guesting on drums or synth guitar as each appear as strong and unexpected elements as the song breaches its apex nearby the ~7 minute mark. The collaborative bells-and-whistles of Side B keep the energy up in response to the overwhelming statement of Side A and this’d ultimately made the full listen feel balanced and experiential without pushing too deeply into any one extreme — A matter of sticking to their guns while also recognizing they are capable of quite a lot.

Emeth Truth and Death‘ is a feast for traditional doom metal fandom in times of great riffless famine and dry-bones songcraft, reaching for the bristling shoulder of the listener with a skeletal hand cold enough to shock them back into the graces of doom’s best traits and with an ideally strong personae-driven, morbid presentation. It is a fine conjure of guitar interest and vocal directive which speaks to and expands Black Oath‘s signature just enough that it feels entirely well-rounded, repeatable for its distinct moodiness and a few inventive touches that spark interest throughout. A high recommendation.

High recommendation. (80/100)

Rating: 8 out of 10.
Info:
ARTIST:BLACK OATH
TITLE:Emeth, Truth and Death
LABEL(S):Sun and Moon Records
RELEASE DATE:April 20th, 2022

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