Monday, July 8, 2013

Eternal Oath - Ghostlands (2013)

A little research on the shelf life of most metal bands reveals some shocking information. With the music industry in flux, and the infrastructure breaking down by the minute, bands just aren't built to last anymore. One album, two albums, three albums and a greatest hits record? That might be all there is. So those bands who have shown a talent for longevity deserve all the more credit. Eternal Oath came up on an anniversary of sorts in 2011; it marked twenty years since their formation in 1991. But there was a catch: For the last five years, the beast had lay dormant, on a self induced hiatus that began in 2006. But something gave them reason to believe that now was, indeed, the time for a revival. And without knowing exactly what cause the beast to awaken, rest assured it wasn't fleeting. Two years later, a new album had been recorded and prepared. After such a long time away from each other, and away from the band name that had become synonymous with melodic death, what could be left in the tank? One listen to "Ghostlands," and you'll see the meter says full; the beast in back.

Only a minute long, "Into The Mist Of Sorrow" is a whisper before a scream. The volume creeps up, never breaking through, with a single guitar riff floating by. But as the clock returns to zero, a strong drum beat starts the assault on "Entangled In Time." Deep, guttural growls cut through the mix, a combination of industrial death metal and light symphonics. The crunching of guitars is the main aggressor here, with distortion levels that push the production work to the breaking point. Add in a constant, thumping drum presence, and things get slightly murky. Whether or not that was the intention remains unseen, but it has times where it works, and others where it might not. "Tears Of Faith" avoids this pitfall, remaining far more crisp throughout, thanks largely to the versatility the band exhibits in the quiet chorus segments. Melodic sensibility isn't a prerequisite for this style, but it can add another dimension to your sound, one Eternal Oath take full advantage of here. Keyboardist Johan Adler brings a lot to the table, reinforcing every riff, every snare hit with something either atmospheric or airy. On the other side of the coin, though, is a band that can throw caution to the wind and lay down a fist pumping, hair swinging track. While "Remnants Of Yesterday" is rife with straight forward instrumentals, it possesses a subtlety in both instrument and voice that makes in memorable.

if one track stands out from the rest, it is the down tempo death/doom march of "Stolen Innocence," a track that could rival some of the best single tracks of the last few years. Vocalist Joni Mäensivu exhibits both haunting and punishing styles here, going from a ghostly whisper to a deathly growl in seconds. Joined by a female voice that provides a sense of light amongst the shadows, a beautiful harmony is struck between the two. There is a noticeable difference in the balance and tone when the band slows down their attack, adopting a much cleaner mix for drummer Ted Jonsson to hammer down. The clean vocals in verse portions of "Fields Of Dreams" are a strange choice, losing so much of the range and ferocity of the previous tracks. Instead, they sound robotic and monotone, failing to evoke any real emotion. Oddity aside, the track has some of the more blaring guitars, masking what might otherwise be a throwaway. By this point, and throughout "The Cross I Bear," the band have reached their peak, settling in to a fitting groove of solid melodic death, never faltering or straying too far from the median. The keyboard presence remains important, as it provides a support to catchy riffs, which are in full swing here.

With track times down, most sticking to four minutes or less, there is little room for error. With smaller windows, the band does some amazing work, as they show on "Sunborn." Piano keys are a nice addition to the mix, poking through some of the more dense guitars on the album. The one true misstep on the album comes early in "Bleeding Sympathy," as Mäensivu forces a cliche "come on" several times, both out of character and out of tone. The true shame is that it distracts from what might be the most powerful track on the album. When in full on attack mode, there is no way to slow the band down, no way to cut momentum. But even those small stumbles can hurt. And while it works on "A Hymn For The Fallen," the electronic element is a dangerous game to play at this stage of the record. Done right, it can be a great accent piece to an already bursting song. Done wrong, and it could be a nosedive in waiting. But pairing it with a straightforward, melo-death stomp works in their favor, including another vocal duet. But the best is again saved for last, as the title track, seven minutes in length, explores every facet of the bands sound. Much like the latest Omnium Gatherum album, the finale speaks volumes, in sound, in fury, and in depth. Sweeping guitar riffs and brutally heavy vocals come and go, giving way to expansive synthesizers and beautifully constructed melodies. Music box ending? Yeah, that works.

Maybe five years away from the daily grind of the metal scene did Eternal Oath some good. With no sign of rust or wear, they have poured their heart and souls into this new album, something that might not have been possible before the split. Renewed and rejuvenated, they picked up where they left off. If that alone doesn't leave a lasting impression, I don't know what will. Think of all of the bands, big and small that have taken a hiatus, only to return half-hearted, jaded, and weak. It speaks to the strength of the band, both as individuals and as a unit. But even more than that, it speaks volumes about their dedication to this music; their music. For a band that has seen the better part of three different decades, it is amazing to see them sticking to their guns, but with a willingness to evolve and stay viable. Not many bands can say that. With the eleven track behemoth known as "Ghostlands" not behind you, and hopefully coming back around for another pass, it is easy to see why a reunion was in order. For them, and for us.


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