UKEM Review - Dec 2012
There is an extremely grandiose beginning to opening and title track ‘Tis Witching Hour’ with sweeping keyboards being accompanied by acoustic guitars and menacing spoken vocals. There is a real triumphant feel to this, what only can be described as an ‘intro track’ as musically the keyboards and guitars are the prominent theme throughout. It’s only when ‘The Cauld Lad Of Hylton’ bursts open that the album really begins. And what a beginning it is , razor sharp guitars accompany blast beat laden drums all backed by some eerie sounding keyboard work. As the track begins to gather pace, the guitars drop off leaving the keys, drums and vocals to create a melodic interlude which doesn’t last particularly long but that breaks the track up nicely and swamps the track with epic atmospheres and tones. Even more elements are introduced half way through the track with the acoustic, folk influenced guitars. These then drop off in favour of the keyboards which once again surround the listener in grandiose, yet menacing atmospheres. There is a hell of a lot of elements to the band’s sound with even more on show as the chanting vocals take over in epic fashion. A lot to take in, but ultimately all pulling together in the same direction perfectly to create something quite unique. ‘Hag Of The Mist’ begins in similar fashion to its predecessor, blasting opening in a scathing assault of hellish black metal .Similarly, the track is then broken down structure wise for the drums and keyboards to take over in a short sharp blast before the guitars are then re-introduced. It sounds a lot like ‘The Principle…..’ era Cradle of Filth even down to the production, but that’s never going to be a negative point now is it? As the song once again drops off and the keyboards take over, they again create great atmosphere, especially when accompanied by the acoustic guitars. It’s not very often you’ll hear the drums playing ‘rim shots’ on a black metal inspired album, but here they are and not sounding out of place or uncomfortable at all, instead fitting in perfectly as the tension and atmosphere of the song builds. Unique would best describe what is being created. ‘The Buried Moon’ acts as an atmospheric keyboard and acoustic guitar interlude and works well enough, carrying on the themes and atmospheres already created in the previous tracks. Probably quite a good song to play at a funeral to remember lost ones.
‘The Wild Voice Came’ is another short, interlude track; folk inspired vocal chanting on offer which drifts into ‘The Crier Of Claiffe' very well by using water/wave samples that add to the mournful atmosphere. The re-introduction of the harsh, scathing black metal themed guitars is more than welcome as it does seem like quite a long time since we’ve heard them. Speed and pace are also re-introduced which again, is welcomed back with open arms/ears; blast beats sounding exceptionally devastating when used with the faster black metal style riffs. Keyboards and spoken vocals again take over the track as the drums and guitars fall off, but as ever, this doesn’t last for long and is used as an interlude to create and add more atmospheres to a song that already drips with just that, pure atmosphere which is beginning to border on the epic. Never far from the band’s sound is the underlying folk element which is harnessed through the guitars and keyboards and is what gives O.C.R their uniqueness. ‘Isobel – Queen Of The Scottish Witches’ again sets an atmospheric, yet menacing and brooding tone as it slowly comes to life before fading into an extremely melodic passage with spoken and screamed vocals being mixed to great effect. As the ice cold guitars then kick in, the atmosphere is maintained giving the song a wintery and bleak sound. Pace wise, the band has slowed things right down which allows the dense atmospheres to swirl back and forth. Speed is then introduced in a haze of blast beats and fast black metal guitars, a complete contrast to the first half of the song, but working well and it is how O.C.R writes songs after all! Mixing the slow passages with the fast sections and then back to the atmosphere laced slower sections.
‘Glassenskies At Witching Hour’ sounds almost medieval as the keyboards introduce the track. This doesn’t last long however, the familiar black metal riffs blasting forth and accompanied by the now standard blasting drums. Vocally it is another good mix, the ultra-high pitched screaming being mixed with low guttural, almost spoken vocals. Again, if reference points were needed, then ‘Vempire-era’ Cradle of Filth is as near the mark as you will get. A lot more atmospheric than that though, so maybe add the atmosphere of Hecate Enthroned and you’ll be there or there abouts. Where O.C.R set themselves aside though is that ever underlying folk element that is added to the guitar riffs to really make them stand out. Closing this monster of an album is ‘As Spectres We Haunt This Kingdom’ which to all intents and purposes is an ‘outro’, dense keyboards are used with chant like vocals to create an epic ending to the album. It could almost be the soundtrack that accompanies a film such as Lord Of The Rings or something suitably epic. This is an album packed full of ideas, influences and atmospheres and to truly get to grips with everything offer more than one listen is a must. O.C.R have produced an absolutely outstanding debut full length album which does draw instant comparisons to Cradle Of Filth and Hecate Enthroned but that also offers the listener so much more, taking you on a musical journey which you will want to travel time and time again. With outstandingly unique, intelligent song writing and being lyrically exceptional, this is an album which is one the UK’s highlights in 2012. It’s been a long time in the making, but the wait was definitely worthwhile. Comes highly recommended
8 out of 10