Saturday, 24 July 2010

Oblique Rain - October Dawn (2009) 62/100.

On second thoughts, I have deduced that Oblique Rain’s debut album, entitled ‘Isohyet’, is a bit flat in terms of the production values. I came to this conclusion after several repeated listens to their latest effort, ‘October Dawn’, an album which has markedly improved upon the production, giving it a far more bombastic feel and heightens the sensations of the individual instruments, particularly giving the bass some much needed life and vigour. When I first listened to this sophomore effort, I didn’t much like it. I was very much still coming down from the initial buzz that the debut gave me. It, as the title to my review for the debut suggests, was cashing in on my obsession with Katatonia at the time, something which has calmed down since then. The sophomore, in comparison, is a more individualistic effort which took time to become accustomed to. Only now can I say I actually enjoy the sophomore, though when I stand it up against the debut, I’m still not sure whether it’s a general improvement on the piece, or whether it’s a sign of regression by the band.

There are a few aspects, and I mean a few, that signal the bands noted improvement in certain areas but, for the most part, the Portuguese act have remained largely the same. Songs like the sullen ‘Dawn’ with its melancholic clean vocals, some distant, uneventful backing vocals, alongside some beautiful acoustics showcase a change in the tides but, overall, the stylistic approach is very much the same with the first few songs identifying the problems in the evolution of the band. In fact, the first half of the album is very forgettable, perhaps something the debut suffered from slightly, too. Although my initial thoughts on the debut were that it would stick with me, it didn’t. Until recently I hadn’t bothered to listen to it for a very long time and with the sophomore taking even longer to settle into its rhythm , Oblique Rain have been a neglected act in my neck of the woods. I think this is partially due to a problem I mentioned earlier -- the forgettable nature of their songs.

From ‘Out There’, to ‘Soul Circles’ and even ‘Absent Awry’, the first part of this piece suffers from a lack of longevity due to the fact that the guitar riffs, which are central to the band, continue along the same patterns that the debut had already explored, therefore they feel somewhat unnecessary. As a band that seems to take major influence from the likes of Sweden’s Katatonia, one would imagine that the sophomore would have deviated somewhat from the original game plan and, in doing so, this sophomore would experiment more. I do wonder whether if the production had been the same on the debut as it is here, would there be any difference in the individual albums’ sound? Probably not, no. Aside from the needless introductory song and the all-acoustic affair on the short and sweet ‘Dawn’, there isn’t much to divide the material on either album.

The format is largely the same; occasional harsh vocals, which are generally poorly performed and forgettable (there’s that word again), perhaps some small melodic death influence in the heavier guitar riffs (which first take place on songs like ‘Reminiscence’) and domineering clean vocals which don’t vary all too much from the standard. The clean vocals, though lacking in variety and their capacity to explore lots of different emotions, are certainly more likeable than the death growls, which have no place on this supposedly progressive metal album. As I said though, there does appear to be some sort of melodic death influence on songs like ‘Reminiscence’, which is a key turning point in the fortunes of the album because before that point, the album was burdened by a lack of talking points. The mediocre opening few songs had stern sounding riffs, as shown on songs like ‘Out There’, but they were never really progressing well with that sound until ‘Reminiscence’ came on by and turned the influences on their head by quickening the tempo and opening with strange guitar effects and, possibly, some sort of metalcore based sound with distant ambiance in the background.

Thankfully, whatever metalcore vibes I got from the introduction, they’re quickly gone as the vocals are introduced with an echoing, aquatic quality as they tend to drift in and out of the foreground, quite like Jonas on some of the latter Katatonia albums. The bass is the one true improvement on the album, production aside. ’Isohyet’ was a self-produced album, so the fact that it sounds rather flat on occasions is no real surprise. There are limitations of self-produced material unless you have start-of-the-art equipment at home to record your music on, something which I highly doubt the members of Oblique Rain had during the recording of their debut. The fact that they now have the backing of a label means they’re able to better produce their material, giving their sound a more polished feel, as well as giving aspects like the bass life and a voice to be heard with. Songs like ‘Reminiscence’ are even bolstered by polished sounding solos, something which the debut lacked, though it seemed to make up with raw talents. Though ‘October Dawn’ is improved in some areas, it largely sounds the same as the debut, therefore it doesn’t feel as important in the grand scheme of things. Good, but by no means a great effort.

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