Tuesday, 10 August 2010

Rituals of the Oak - Hour of Judgement (2009) 70/100.

Female fronted doom metal is a difficult topic for many people to get their heads around. There seems to be a lot of misogyny in regards to metal as most males would prefer male singers because male vocalists have a stronger approach when it comes to hard edged music such as doom. I myself am on the fence. Comparisons to bands like the cult classic British band Mourn and Belgians catchier Serpentcult are bound to be made simply because all three acts are fronted by women, two of which are seemingly quite attractive -- generally an important characteristic of bands with female members spearheading their act in the vocal department because it attracts a different type of audience. Whilst one side of the audience is attracted by the musical abilities of a female fronted band, others will definitely be swayed by an attractive member being in the limelight. Although that is usually the case for 90% of doom/gothic hybrids, this Australian doom metal act from Sydney have seemingly attached Sabine to the project because of her talents in the vocal department.

Unbeknownst to me, I was aware of her existence before I came across this band, Rituals of the Oak. She currently also performs for Lycanthia and though I’ve not heard the independent EP entitled ‘Within The Walls’, on which she participated vocals on, I have heard their 1999 full-length debut ‘Myriad’. I must admit, I’m not a fan of it. It came highly rated by various reviewing website specialists, but I found it to be wanting. Lycanthia were definitely one of those types of doom metal bands who relied too heavily on a female performance to make them more unique than they should perhaps be viewed as. I’ve also had a few encounters with another band she has ties too, Kimaera, though I’ve completely forgotten what they sound like. I do know that they have a respectable reputation amongst death/doom fans, so her talents have been well documented in the past by both musicians, fans and critics alike. Her performance here isn’t exactly what I would call stellar, but it is pleasing to the ear.

She definitely isn’t the type of woman who aims at overshadowing her fellow band members as her performance is somewhat muted. The production probably doesn’t help as the instrumentation, especially, doesn’t feel very rich until we encounter songs like ‘Drown The Wood In Blood’ which is significantly more upbeat than the previous song self-titled song, ‘Hour of Judgment’, which is supposedly a showcase of how this Australian act are akin to bands like Candlemass, Solitude Aeternus and even Warning with their slow paced, emotional style of riffing and vocals. The music, for me, isn’t anywhere near as emotionally draining as bands like Warning, though songs like ‘Standing in the House of Suffering’ do occasionally come close with its wonderful style of repetitious riffing and closely followed bass work. The drums certainly aren’t as pressing as I expected. As I stated earlier, the production isn’t very rich in texture. The structures can feel very regimented and there is a discipline to how things evolve which feels quite predictable at times, but it doesn’t make the album any less enjoyable, particularly when the vocals are brought into play.

The album feels fairly monotonous throughout, but this is doom metal, right? I suppose given that fact I should expect a fairly flat environment for the music to build from. The vocals seemingly aim to replenish the under-developed production job as they’re rather splendiferous on occasions. I don’t think they work as well as Pat Walker’s vocals of Warning. His voice really is torturous and emotionally draining, but Sabine does a commendable job, though she does bring the issue of whether female vocalists aren’t as strong at conveying sheer desolation as male vocalists. She gives the album a more romanticised vibe, which I suppose it nice. She does somewhat remind me of Michelle, the former vocalist of Serpentcult who has now sadly departed the band. The instrumentation, bar song three, isn’t as catchy as Serpentcult’s, but it definitely is as memorable despite that given the intelligent riffing, with the bass playing alongside it with a very edgy feel and unique vocal approach.

There are many bands in this type of mould with a very melancholic doomier sound, so it was important for the band to supply a major difference in the forefront of the atmosphere and Sabine definitely provides a feeling of uniqueness despite there being bands of this nature who use female vocalists, too, though they’re normally a lot more obscure, like Mourn, for example. There is a very rigid nature to this style, but the female vocals do allow a more expansive element to flow at the forefront of the sound. With Michelle’s departure from Serpentcult and there being one too many mediocre female fronted bands around, Rituals of the Oak are an exciting addition to the doom metal scene in Australia and world wide because there isn’t exactly an abundance of this types of bands, though they do exist quietly in the underground. ’Hour of Judgement’ is a mature, professional album which shows a lot of potential in this young Australian act, but there is still work to be done.

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