Review: Roots Of The Old Oak – The Devil And His Wicked Ways
Though there’s no shortage of anti-Christian, decidedly un-pious death metal, it often finds itself rooted in post-war American culture, and as such tends to be in opposition to relatively modern strands of American Protestantism. Compare this to the more stereotypical “folkish” spirit of black metal that typically chooses not to directly evoke modern politics or culture war talking points, but hones in on an atmosphere that conjures images of pre-Christian contact.
Roots Of The Old Oak are interesting for how they bridge the gap between the two approaches. The project has a pedigree that begins with cult English black metal outfit Reign Of Erebus, a project that all three members of Roots Of The Old Oak were part of in the late ’90s. Though as a death/doom band they’ve shed their black metal DNA, much of the attitude remains.
Roots Of The Old Oak’s debut full-length sees the death/doom project spread its wings following last year’s demo Blot. Their new record, The Devil And His Wicked Ways, sees the project take a big jump in visibility, being signed to Hammerheart Records, who put out a short cassette run of Blot late last year. The band defined the record not as a strict concept album but instead one that follows a “Pre-planned narrative”. In this case, it’s a laudation of their pagan ancestors who stood resolute in the wake of Christian expansion in England.
The record kicks off with “I Defy Thee”, and it’s a solid introduction—archetypal death/doom, with arpeggiated, melodic leads complimenting the fuzzy low end. It’s fittingly the song that is perhaps most forthright with the messaging of the record: a statement against spiritual capitulation, of pagan resistance against Christian expansion. It introduces itself with aplomb;
“I will not kneel, I will not bow.”
That ardent defiance and standoffish aggression is present throughout the entire record, and is given a particularly combative interpretation on “Cheating The Hangman”. It has this slick hammer-on riff that buzzes in your brain, accompanied with subtle, symphonic synth and choral elements that bleed into the track. A track more doom than it is death, it’s easily the highlight of the record—catchy and ostentatious but doesn’t feel out of place in the track-list. One of the best metal tracks you’ll hear this year.
Slowing down a bit, the sludge-drenched opening of “Forestdweller” rumbles with defiant conviction but it sadly belies a bit of an anemic track whose start-stop pace robs the track of a lot of its impact. Its plodding tempo and rigidity hint toward an oppressively militant sound that could have been a highlight, but is unfortunately a little disposable as it stands. The shorter instrumental piece “A Ballad Of Two Ravens” is therefore a risky decision in the track-listing, and easily could have been a doldrum point in the album, but thankfully its juxtaposition of field recordings, subtle folk instrumentation, melodic clean guitar and a harsh bridge turns it into an unexpected highlight.
The title track of The Devil And His Wicked Ways introduces itself with an auspicious piano melody, before jolting to life with a dirty, droning riff and guttural vocals. It’s slow pace, foreboding lyrics and menacing delivery make it a highlight on the record, and feels like a more complete version of what was attempted on “Forestdweller”.
“Cosmic Dark Age” is interesting because its more rollicking than the rest of the record, not quite veering into death ‘n’ roll but still relatively groovy. While I think Roots Of The Old Oak do foreboding and grimness better than purely rocking out, it’s still a solid track. “Allfather (A Wanderers Tale)” is the inverse of this—a slow track that’s heavy on atmosphere and heavy on drones. It’s a nice example of the band’s versatility, that they manage to flit fairly seamlessly between styles.
“Take The Throne” is interesting as a closer, combining disparate elements featured throughout the album with a sense of finality and scale. While both of the final two tracks are a bit long in the tooth, the closer doesn’t quite earn its length in the same way as “Allfather (A Wanderers Tale)”, though it still rounds out the record in a fitting way with its themes of self-actualization and its aggressive tone.
The Devil And His Wicked Ways has a lot of highlights to be sure, but as an album in its totality, it’s a little less than the sum of its parts. While it’s the sort of album that will probably serve as a launchpad to bigger and greater things, it’s got more than a fair share of solid tracks, one of the year’s best singles, and a unique atmosphere among death/doom.
3/5 Flaming Toilets ov Hell
The Devil And His Wicked Ways releases September 15th on Hammerheart Records.