One Metal's Review - Jan 2013
One Metal's Review - Jan 2013
There’s been quite the welcome resurgence in the UK black metal scene lately, seemingly fuelled by a sudden rise of interest in all things English. As always, though, the groundswell of this movement has been rumbling away for quite a few years beforehand and while the likes of Wodensthrone and Winterfylleth may be carrying the banner for now, Old Corpse Road have also been there from the start, honing their craft in the shadows, tipped for the top by those in the know. ’Tis Witching Hour… is an album that a lot of people have been waiting on for a long time, including me.
Which is why I’m delighted that it’s pretty much exactly the debut album I wanted this remarkable band to make. Eschewing the older, overtly pagan influences that colour the work of their peers, Old Corpse Road are straight out of Olde England proper, their lyrics drawn from the fireside tales of terror that even in our grandparents’ days were still current in every village in the land. As a kid I grew up reading endless collections of ‘true’ spook stories and rural folklore gathered from all over the British Isles; hearing stories I already know and used to shiver at when I was but a nipper, retold over a soundtrack of thunderous black metal, strikes a chord right the way to my bones.
Musically, Old Corpse Road are both proficient and imaginative. The core of their sound is pure symphonic black metal that harks right back to the early nineties; harsh, fast and wild, yet still possessing a keen ear for melody and a twisting, sinuous grace. Colour, atmosphere and depth are added with grand gothic keyboards and delicate yet ominous acoustic interludes. I’m particularly impressed with the work of drummer ‘The Dreamer’, whose creative, expressive playing really enhances the band’s sound without ever becoming ostentatious or overwhelming. But what really sets Old Corpse Road apart is their vocals, because they have no dedicated ‘vocalist’ at all. Instead, both guitarists, the bassist and the keyboardist all contribute sung or spoken parts and for me this is their great stroke of genius, as it not only allows for a Cradle-of-Filth-worthy range of stylings – from spoken declamation to a guttural death metal roar to nerve-shattering screaming – but makes it easy to layer the vocal parts atop each other for effects that a single singer would have to rely on studio overdubs to achieve. It also means that no one member can be labelled as the band’s ‘voice’ or ‘frontman’, adding to the collaborative, collective feel of the music, and the sheer dexterity of the actual performance is amazing. At full speed, with all four singers trading lyrics line-for-line, if you close your eyes it’s all too easy to imagine yourself being harried through the woods at midnight by a pack of spectres whose voices are taunting and driving you from every side. Chilling, unique, and breathtaking.
The structure and flow of this album are impressive, too. The length of time it’s taken for ’Tis Witching Hour… to be released is completely justified by the amount of thought and care that’s clearly gone into it. The whole hangs smoothly together as a listening experience, bookended by the atmosphere pieces ‘’Tis Witching Hour’ and ‘As Spectres We Haunt This Kingdom’; its heart, though, is the magnificent three-part centrepiece ‘The Crier of Claiffe’, whose haunting ‘A boat, a boat, in Heaven’s name!’ refrain is guaranteed to follow you around like a spectral ball and chain for a good week after you first hear it. I’m also enamoured of ‘Hag of the Mist’, whose gorgeous choral vocal parts are a comparatively tiny nuance but a perfect example of the little, subtle details that help to give this album its considerable replay value. Add to that the likes of semi-acoustic instrumental ‘The Buried Moon’ (whose narrative is included in the liner notes, in the absence of lyrics!) and ‘Glassensikes at Witching Hour’ which will strike a chord of sheepish familiarity with anyone who’s ever had to walk back late through that one creepy street on the way home from the pub, and there’s a true abundance of dark delights awaiting the listener here.
And to Old Corpse Road’s credit, despite feeling genuinely vast in scale throughout, this album still, surprisingly, comes in at under an hour and so doesn’t outstay its welcome. Every virtue you could want in an album like this, and then some. In Old Corpse Road, we’ve got a band that English black metal fans can be truly proud to call their own.
There's been a gap in the market for a band who sound like this for a very long time, and Old Corpse Road occupy that space with elan, talent and genuine class. An opening gambit that delivers great things and promises more to come.
4.5/5 - Great, highly recommended