Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Hoth - Oathbreaker

Earlier this month, I had the unique experience of going to the last date of this year’s Metal Alliance Tour featuring Behemoth, Inquisition, Goatwhore, 1349, and Black Crown Initiate. Because I had already seen them multiple times in the past, I decided to take my dinner break during Goatwhore’s set. When I was standing towards the back enjoying my cheap burrito, I noticed two nerdy-looking guys wearing matching shirts walk into the venue. I assumed that it was a local band on their shirts, so I decided to write it down because of how cool the logo looked. About a day or so later, I found the band’s various social media pages, listened to the song from their upcoming album (which was just released today!) that they had available for streaming, and needed more. The song that they had available for free listening on their bandcamp was one of the best pieces of music I’ve heard from a local metal band in YEARS, I had to get my hands on this album! They gave me a copy for review roughly a week or so ago, and now that I’ve overplayed it enough, I’m ready to share my thoughts.

The first thing that I should probably get out of the way is that Star Wars is Hoth’s theme. Everything from their logo to their artwork to their band name is based on the legendary sci-fi movie series. If I hadn’t have looked them up on various sites and read other reviews on this album, I wouldn’t have known this about them. These two men have done such a spectacular job of writing music about something like Star Wars without sounding laughable or corny that I don’t think of something like Star Wars when I listen to them! Their music could have the theme of anything and I wouldn’t care because of how fucking well they’ve pulled this off. Also, the way in which they managed to have science fiction-themes in a black metal setting is phenomenal. Taking a theme commonly associated with deathcore and technical death and applying it to black metal and still have it SOUND like black metal is something that requires a lot of creativity and resourcefulness.

Even though it’s pretty easy to make a fairly professional-sounding recording, most bands as underground as this have recordings that are obviously raw and not 100%. Sometimes this is how I would prefer it; I love the realistic approach of recording something and doing very little mixing/production work. There are other bands, like Phalgeron, that don’t sound the best that way. Oathbreaker has amazing production quality. Everything can be heard, the vocals are mixed to blend in with the other instruments instead of jutting out in your face, and the drums match up perfectly with everything else.

Oathbreaker is a concept album, which most likely means that the band intended for it to be listened to as a whole because of the massive story (whatever the hell it is) behind the music. The first two tracks stand out to me SO MUCH that, despite this being more of an album than a collection of songs, I’m going to go over. The first track, The Unholy Conception, if I remember correctly, was the single that made me say “I FUCKING NEED THIS”. The overall sound of this particular track is a very atmospheric melodic death sound. It’s interesting because although it has the true black metal sound that I’ve grown to know VERY well, it has a thin layer of death metal resting on top to influence some of the vocals and guitar melodies. The highlight of this track is the acoustic part during the second half. I’ve heard A LOT of acoustic guitar stuff in black metal, and what the beauty in the melodies of what Hoth have done here is (in my mind) easily comparable to Woods of Ypres and Agalloch; it may be somewhat short, but the beauty and emotion in this is enough to blow me away no matter how many times I listen to it. And I know it sounds like I’m exaggerating, but I’m not, this is one of the most beautiful and refreshing moments an audio recording has given me in years.

The second track starts off in an acoustic Agalloch-style setting. Once again, everything here is filled with inspiration and blankets you with a cape of grim, dark, yet blissful solitude that can only be described as unforgettable. During my first listen of this album, right after the intro to this song, the first riff that the bass guitar plays is what pulled me in. This music truly encourages you to let go of yourself and completely submerge yourself in the sounds that flow into your ears. The same melody that pulls you in is then played at a much faster pace in the band’s signature sound, which at first kind of ruins the mood because of how relaxing and melodic the atmosphere becomes. But after about another minute, the music pulls you back in and helps you forget the disruption.

Oathbreaker is a rare example of a record with absolutely no filler. A lot of bands will say “this album has no filler” simply to distract people from the fact that, it does indeed have filler. You can tell that the music here wasn’t written during a short time period. Sure, the band claims to have written the majority of the material during “the cold, winter months of 2013”, but Oathbreaker is way too thought-out and solid to have been written in a matter of months. The production is superb, the musical structure is superb, and the album feels solid as a whole while at the same time, each individual song holds enough substance and beauty to be just fine on their own. The vocals are some of the best I’ve heard all year, the guitar, bass, and drum work are all superb, and you’re a sorry soul if you don’t listen to this at least 10 times. Consider this to have already reserved a spot on my “best of 2014” list. Check this out, you won’t regret it. This gets a perfect 20/20. I don't come across as many albums worthy of that score nearly as much as I used to, so this, to me, is a true gem. All I can say is that I was not expecting something THIS good.