Oak - Disintegrate

Review by Sandre the Giant

Originally published here: https://www.thesleepingshaman.com/reviews/oak-disintegrate/

Portugal’s Oak, one of many with the same name on the Encyclopedia Metallum, are a band whose journey began on their superlative debut ‘Lone’ in 2019. An album of supremely morose and atmospheric funeral doom, it sent shockwaves through a Portuguese scene that has been slowly growing in stature over the years. Four interminably long years later, we have a follow up in ‘Disintegrate’, a single forty five minute track that has me salivating at the possibilities. It is out now through Season of Mist.

The delicate opening tones are crisp, drifting like cobwebs on an early morning breeze before a growing melancholic riff and melody lines builds into the main body of the song. Big growls split the harmony of the melody line with an addition of ferocious pain and suffering. That power fades off again, and we return to the cold clean guitar and echoing drum beat. This exchange of light and dark motifs is really nice; the quieter passages providing respite from Oak’s grand misery. Around the 15 minute mark the swooning, lurching doom crashes in with a melody line beneath that really hooks me in, and that swelling atmospheric feel continues on from here.

We reach the halfway mark in the record and it has flown past; a sign of a good album especially when it is only one or two songs for the full length. The naked, emotive clean notes that ring out in a void of silence here is magical, the fragility of it all before what becomes a stomping, atonal doom crush towards the final third of ‘Disintegrate’. A slow motion apocalypse of groaning, world rending riffs rumbling towards an inevitable downfall of society, humanity and life as we know it. The story of the record is of a giant who carries the weight of the world on his back, and at the end of his cycle will dissolve under the sun and leave behind only memories. You can feel this otherworldly figure looming over the darker parts of the track, as well as the rebirthing moments of the quieter tones.

How Oak have made this album so compelling I’ll never understand. Their artistic vision is beyond my comprehension but their talent is there for us all to see. ‘Disintegrate’ is a song that you can unpack listen by listen, each dynamic shift becoming more subtle, every switch in tone between light and dark more engrossing, each bleak melody more heartbreaking. ‘Disintegrate’ is a wonder and we should all be hopeful we get more of these guys in the near future.




Review by Sandre the Giant

Country or region specific genres of metal come with a lot of baggage attached. When it comes to Swedish death metal, Polish black metal, Bay Area thrash or, in this case, English doom, there’s a certain expectation based on a long and storied history of quality. I was recently alerted to The Salt Pale Collective’s self titled EP, and their initial offerings to this most grey of island’s legacy. It is out now through Bandcamp.

As the haunting drones of ‘Abyssal Star’ drifting out of your speaker, the eerie calm is shattered by huge lumbering riffs and something else I can’t quite put my finger on. It’ll come to me, don’t worry. The vocal diversity is great, primal roars mix with cleans that remind me a little of Baroness as well as almost dark ambient soundscapes creeping in underneath. ‘Charnel Plains/Whore Abyss’ has touches of Devin Townsend in there as it builds up, crushing riffs straight from the Jesu playbook are met by epic synth and keyboard enhancements, while we get more vocal diversity though the awesome choral mid section. The Salt Pale Collective seem determined to drag doom into the ethereal realm, where massive riffs and roars keep us barely tethered to the corporeal earth below us. Imagine the crush modernity of post metal meeting the primal raw power of death/doom and throw in some dark ambient/industrial elements too and you’ll have this track, a masterpiece of evocation.

‘Celestial Emissary’ is that big slab of doom you’ve been waiting on; starting heavier with some nice organ in the backdrop, and gradually opening that backdrop up to a huge melodic feel while the doom crashes and lurches in the foreground. That thing I was trying to put my finger on earlier? It is definitely Devin Townsend; The Salt Pale Collective have the same huge backdrop that ‘Terria’ did back in 2001, only they are putting massive doom riffs over it instead of grandiose progressive metal. ‘Terria’ is one of my favourite records ever, and death/doom is growing to become one of my favourite genres so this middle sweet spot is just excellent. ‘The Pillar of Salt’ brings us to a fitting close, a swooning riff carrying our limp bodies towards the dusk as we fade out into a quiet ambient hum.

If you were expecting a more morose, funereal and gothic approach to The Salt Pale Collective, you’ll be disappointed. But only briefly as the quality of their take on the genre will satisfy any need for heaviness, haunting melancholy or even a touch, a tiny dash, of hopefulness. ‘The Salt Pale Collective’ is a sweeping, heavy and yet almost cinematic prospect in the scene, and the band have found themselves a sound to call their own. There’s whispers of a new album on the horizon and I cannot wait for it if this is an indicator.



Six Feet Under - Unborn

Scribed by Sandre the Giant

Six Feet Under have been a bit of a weird proposition since they formed in 1993, thanks mainly to frontman Chris Barnes and their wild inconsistency in quality. Starting strongly in 1995, it slowly declined until the early 2010s when ‘Undead’ stunned everyone by being actually good! We couldn’t believe it either. What was even more surprising was that its follow up in 2013, ‘Unborn’, was pretty good too. That is where we are at today, as it celebrates the 10th anniversary on the 19th of March. It was probably also their last good record too, as their newer material is becoming embarassingly poor. Anyway…

Six Feet Under should be an important act. The main project for the vocalist and lyricist of the biggest death metal band in the world’s first four records, at least two of those being utter undeniable classics, should be something to follow intently but maybe it was the musicians behind Cannibal Corpse that kept us hooked, rather than the lyrics. Certainly ‘Unborn’ was the last time Barnes’ voice held up in any great strength over the course of a record (ironic considering his most recent social media rant about ‘terrible death metal vocals’), but this whole record is honestly pretty good. Maybe it was the addition of future The Haunted guitarist Ola Englund but the riffs are really catchy and heavy; memorable slabs of Floridian death metal like ‘Prophecy’ and ‘Incision’ are great cuts. Imagine putting this one after the last decade and a half of music from Barnes, you’d think it was a different band! It’s not quite the jump that Deicide managed after albums 4, 5 and 6 but still.

‘Unborn’ seems to have been one of, if not the last, good Six Feet Under album, and when they concentrate on death metal rather than fucking awful cover albums (‘Graveyard Classics’ is a bit of a misnomer, there’s nothing classic about it), and Barnes’ voice is still on form, Six Feet Under have proven themselves to be a capable band who can make decent records. It’s a shame that the legacy of the band is consistently tainted by bad music and mad behaviour by its linchpin. I wouldn’t hold my breath for a repeat of this anytime soon, but if you can find time to play the ‘Undead’/’Unborn’ duo, you probably should, as there is a lot to like. It’s a solid death metal record with some really good tracks and a lot of cool riffs. Compared with some of the others, this is their ‘Tomb of the Mutilated’.


Sonata Arctica - Winterheart's Guild

Scribed by Sandre the Giant

As we discussed earlier in the year, the early 2000s was the time where trad metal, heavy metal, power metal really came into its own and began a run of classic records over 02-04. Slap bang in the middle of this was Finnish melodic heroes Sonata Arctica, who had been putting together a quietly impressive resume since 1999 debut ‘Ecliptica’ and their breakout record, ‘Winterheart’s Guild’. I can’t tell you over the years how many times I’ve gone back to this record and particularly ‘The Cage’, one of power metal’s quintessential hits.

If you know the band, you know this record. If you were new to them in 2003, this sort of super melodic and catchy power metal is their bread and butter. Built on the base of 2001’s ‘Silence’, it is full of that now famous Stratovarian gallop and soaring melodicisms. I’ve always enjoyed the work of keyboardist and vocalist Tony Kakko, a voice that is immediately recognisable within the genre and whose fingers fly across those keys with deft skills enhancing the melodic edge of each track. The first two tracks of the record are much more grandiose and complex than you’d expect at this stage in a power metal record; normally the opener is the galloping Iron Maiden/Helloween style anthem but that’ll come soon. ‘Abandoned, Pleased, Brainwashed, Exploited’ definitely kicks off like that but develops those ideas into a track that feels bigger than just a speedy opener. The likes of the swelling ‘Gravenimage’ is a complex, beautiful piece of power metal songwriting, and provides that juxtaposition with ‘The Cage’, one of power metal’s greatest songs.

I love ‘The Cage’ so much, it was the first SA song I ever heard and it remains my favourite to this day, but the whole record is full of the kind of soaring choruses, classic metal soloing and a sense of drama that ‘The Cage’ does perfectly. The melancholic balladry of ‘The Misery’ is the quintessential power metal ballad, rich and just slightly overblown, while the band really hit their stride on ‘Victoria’s Secret’ and start to crank out hit after hit. ‘Champagne Bath’ gets a bit weird in the middle, but the driving ‘Broken’ is a slow burn killer and the classic gallop of ‘The Ruins of My Life’ showcases the melodic powerhouse that Sonata Arctica were evolving into. It is a real treat to watch a band grow and take a grip of their destiny right in front of your eyes over the course of a record. By the time ‘Draw Me’ comes to a close, you know you’ve just listened to one of the finest power metal records put to tape.

Power metal is often a genre criticised for being ‘too cheesy’, ‘too melodic’ and not heavy enough. Sonata Arctica might be guilty of all three of these faults at times, but when power metal really hits it hits hard. ‘Winterheart’s Guild’ hits hard; a powerhouse record full of memorable songs, great performances and a flagstone release in a year chock full of future classics. Named 11th in Loudwire’s top 25 Power Metal Records of All Time as well as in Metal Hammer’s 10 Essential Power Metal Records, it isn’t just a personal recommendation. You’d have to be unbelievably cynical to not immediately fall in love with some of these songs. I’ve never hard the pleasure of seeing Sonata Arctica live yet but I’m sure when I do this will be the stuff I look forward to most.


Mammoth Caravan - Ice Cold Oblivion

Review by Geary of War

Little Rock Arkansas is not a massive city by any means, the biggest in the state, but compared to other sprawling metropolises found throughout the USA it is down the list. Expand that search to the state and I can only put it down to something being in the air or water as they produce doom and sludge bands as though it was the very lifesblood they needed to survive. From Spirit Adrift, Gatekeeper, Deadbird, Sumokem and of course the mighty Pallbearer the supportive and encouraging metal scene loves to see their brothers in sludge succeed. Which brings us neatly to Mammoth Caravan. New to the scene but already working hard, ‘Ice Cold Oblivion’ is all the classic slabs of sludge and doom you would want and need but with a little bit more on the side. It is out now through Bandcamp.

The opening title track draws you in with hints of Hawkwind before leaving any further mention of those prog legends far far behind. With a thunk of a kick drum and a riff that Dopethrone-era Electric Wizard would be proud of we are now firmly what will become familiar territory. Vocals land with more than a hint of Kirk Windstein about them. There is a distinctly analogue feel about this EP; perhaps it is the thought of Electric Wizard roaming about my cranium but it would certainly be in keeping with that old school doom vibe. On a side note serious credit must got to Brandon Ringo for delivering one of the best “blech” cries I’ve heard in a long long time. Mat Johnson joins the lads for the veritably snappy ‘Nomad’, well, as snappy as a mile wide swaggering track gets. We see the mellower side of the band with the start of ‘Petroglyphs’, this part is quite peaceful and flows effortlessly into the thick, fuzzy section which in turn becomes a hard hitting slamming, growl assisted battering of the senses. ‘Megafauna’ aptly retains some of the grandeur set up on the previous track, and to be honest it would be a missed opportunity to misplace that for a track of this name. ‘Periglacial’ flows from this into the perfect penultimate track here, the cleanest vocals thus far are on show and it offers a nice variety to the EP. Brutal, relentless doom is great but we all have a limit, varying the approach really lends this EP an extra dimension and gives you waypoints on your listen.

Final track ‘Frostbite’ encapsulates the spirit of the band’s name and old school album cover. By some margin this is the most adventurous track on the EP with some really haunting lyrics, chief of which being “little baby mammoth, encased in ice”. If the story has not been woven for you by that stage I do not know what to tell you. Having lent the track the feeling of a mass extinction event, what follows next is a glorious doom journey through the tundra. Far from a finished article but no worse for it, there are hints of great things to come here. Just enough variety to keep the listener engaged, with the plethora of brethren in the state it would be impossible not to have picked up a trick or two and these lads have done just that.



Wardruna - Runaljod - Yggdrasil

Scribed by Sandre the Giant

Nordic folk group Wardruna first appeared on the scene in 2009 with ‘Runaljod – gap var Ginnunga’ and were immediately of interest to the metal scene due to the involvement of Gaahl of Gorgoroth and God Seed fame. One of black metal’s premier vocalists trying his hand at dark, Viking inspired folk? It’s got to be worth a look. The first record was received very well, and in 2013 the group (featuring Einar Selvik and Lindy Fay Hella) got back together to give us the second part in the ‘Runaljod’ trilogy, ‘Yggdrasil’. This would be the last album Gaahl would appear on, as he left the group in 2015 but they have continued on as strong as ever.

‘Runaljod – Yggdrasil’ was where the group’s work would reach new commercial heights as a number of tracks were used in the hit TV series Vikings, of which I am a big fan. You’ll hear the haunting tones of closer ‘Helvegen’ twice in the series actually, as well as ‘Fehu’ and ‘Rotlaust tre fell’ too. Einar would also go onto work on a number of other soundtrack pieces, such as Assassins Creed: Valhalla. Anyway, ‘Yggdrasil’ is the second record in the trilogy, inspired by the Elder Futhark runes, and you get the sense immediately of a step up from its predecessor. The group’s sound has really coalesced into something rich and uniquely theirs at this point. As rewarding and wistful as the slow burn folk of their debut was, no one was ready for this kind of thing in 2009. I think a lot of that had something to do with seeing what Gaahl was up to after the Gorgoroth name chaos, and we weren’t ready for it.

Utilising a huge amount of traditional instrumentation, this more importantly than anything FEELS authentic to the style Wardruna are going for. A shamanistic cloud hangs over the droning beat of ‘AnsuR’, an enthrallingly morose melody line weaving its way throughout. The true magic of Wardruna is that their very obvious familiarity with all the traditional instruments gives the whole thing an incredibly natural feel. Lindy adds bone flute and Einar contributes percussion, goat horn, tongue horn, Kravik lyre, bronze lure and flute to the album, and I had to investigate half of those to learn what they were. But they never feel used for their own sake, everything is essential to the tapestry. Vocally there’s the mix of ethereal female and rich male vocals giving us a real ritualistic feel to everything, the most dynamic being the complex ‘Gibu’. I find Wardruna’s music hard to describe sometimes; it is very much something you need to experience yourself to unlock the ancient feelings within. It is the kind of music that is at once relaxing and stirring, spiritually invigorating and yet oddly soothing. You can feel every lapping fjord, every rune carved in ancient stone, every crackling fire in northern pine forest. Evocative doesn’t seem like a big enough word to describe ‘Solringen’, or the magnificent and slowly iconic ‘Helvegen’.

‘Runaljod – gap var Ginnunga’ was the excellent, scene creating debut but was always put in a place where people didn’t really know how to react to it. By the time this came out, people were on board and we were ready for more. ‘Runaljod – Yggdrasil’ is a masterpiece of atmosphere, inspiring and poignant, and a pillar of all that is to come. It is my own personal favourite of the trilogy, and second only to 2020’s ‘Kvitravn’ overall. This was the place where I realised a genre of music outside of metal that connected with me on such a personal level. Warduna have many imitators but none ever come close to the authenticity of this.


Sorrowful Land - Faded Anchors of the Past

Review by Sandre the Giant

Originally published here: https://www.thesleepingshaman.com/reviews/sorrowful-land-faded-anchors-past/

Ukrainian one man death/doom act Sorrowful Land have returned from a five year break to release their third full length through Black Lion Records. Multi-instrumentalist Max Molodtsov has his fingers in many musical pies, including Edenian, Blessdivine and Mistyfica, all of which have a generally lighter sound than this. It’ll be interesting to see if any of those power metal/gothic doom/symphonic metal influences bleed over into ‘Faded Anchors of the Past’.

Opener ‘As Long As We Breathe’ features the talents of Doomed’s Pierre Laube and it is a rich, dense track of mourning guitar melodies, massive slow riffs and some wonderful growl/clean vocal interplay. A strong start to an album that unfolds with many such moments of graceful, deep beauty. ‘Faded Anchor of the Past’ soars with latter day Anathema influences, with that deathly growl lurking below this magnificent epic. This is a dichtomy that Sorrowful Land play with a lot on this record; the light/dark vocal collaboration that should be hacky at this point but on tracks like the magnificent ‘Small Lost Moments’ it works so well you’d believe in it again. The vocal collaborators really help a huge amount, especially in ‘The Cold Gray Fog of Dawn’, a personal highlight of mine. Stefan Nordström and Henrik Elkholm add gorgeous depth and layers to an already impressive track. The sorrowful rumble of ‘Where the Sullen Waters Lie’ is the heaviest moment of the record, a drowning abyss of massive riffs and roars that really capture that death/doom zeitgeist perfectly, a feeling that is also flowing through the My Dying Bride-esque moments of the beautiful gothic doom of ‘The Night is Darkening Around Me’.

Death/doom today seems to suffer from a quagmire of sameyness; bands repeating the same slow riffs, bleak melody lines and massive growls without putting any real heart into it. Sorrowful Land do not have that issue; each song drips with a genuine heartache and cold grasping sadness. You cannot help but wonder if what is going on in his homeland has given new weight to Max’s compositions here, adding poignancy to an already weeping monolith of crushing moroseness. Whatever it is, ‘Faded Anchors of the Past’ is a record coloured richly in shades of grey where both misery and hope lie entwined in a fatal embrace.




Lurk - Aegis

Review by Sandre the Giant

The first expulsion from Finnish death/doom/sludge maestros Lurk in seven years, ‘Aegis’ sees the band stick with Transcending Obscurity after the success of their striking 2016 record ‘Fringe’. That was a work of art I was keen to hear more of, so this wait has been torture! It is out on April 7th and I hope it is as esoteric and warped as its cover art!

‘Ashlands’ wastes no time in descending straight to a sludgy, ancient Scandinavian death metal riff wreathed in a fetid groove. Bilious vocals snarl and growl their sermons of filth, while the mindrending crunch continues. ‘Shepherd’s Ravine’ has this really uncomfortable sway about it, there’s a little noise rock sensibilities creeping in over the heavy low end thunder and the vocal performance is really flexible and varied. There’s always this strange, almost trance like dreaminess that permeates through all of Lurk’s work. It’s like a waking nightmare of bizarre yet heavy moments, like in ‘Hauta’ where the atmospheric dream doom collides into crunchy death/doom monoliths. ‘Blood Surge’ is the real triumph here though, possessed of a guitar tone that sets your teeth on edge with each grinding lurch into darkness. It is a track that builds its layers carefully, becoming a hideous diamond in a mine full of them. The eerie ‘Kehto’ drifts into the claustrophobic ‘The Blooming’, a grinding psychedelic doom dirge into the depths of hellish fire and brimstone.

Once again, Lurk reappear from their cave to bless us with a significant offering of metal, a rich woven tapestry of odd melodies, earth shaking weight and savage grace. ‘Aegis’ is the kind of album that belongs amongst the true greats of the modern genre, ironically most of which reside on that exact same label. Lurk’s work is transcendant, evocative and uniquely theirs. You can hear a Lurk record a mile away and that is a hallmark of greatness. ‘Aegis’ is an uncomfortable, lingering work of genius.





Mur.Doc 104 - The Undying

Review by Sandre the Giant

Maltese thrashers Mur.Doc 104 have just released their debut EP, ‘The Undying’, after a couple of single releases and their sound is very much influenced by classic 80s Bay Area thrash. That almost certainly means riffs which puts it right in our wheelhouse! Also welcome Malta to the Killchain Blog, a first review for your land!

The opening title track has a big meaty riff to kick us off, and certainly takes a lot from latter period Exodus, maybe ‘Tempo of the Damned’ era? We’re talking the ‘other big four’ here (Exodus/Overkill/Testament/Death Angel) more than the Big Four, and this is often a good thing if you’re looking for proper 80s thrash. ‘Mur.Doc 104’ (I wish I got the reference for the name…) gives you quite a bit of Slayer ala ‘South of Heaven’-era, while the great melody scales of ‘Ignorant Masses’ has a really unique sound to it. Mur.Doc 104 tread that line between tribute and pastiche very carefully, never descending into copycat territory but also not quite reaching the heights of their influences. How could you in this case though? Closer ‘Thrashing the Boat’ is a ripper, tearing through some tasting soloing and a more snarling approach. More of this please!

While a little rough around the edges, ‘The Undying’ is a fun debut and leads me to look forward to more from Mur.Doc 104 in the future. We can always do with more big chunky thrash bands in our world, and more from each corner of the globe as well. ‘The Undying’ is catchy as fuck, full of headbanging moments and moshpit material. That’s all you need.