Oakhelm – Echtra

Oakhelm

Echtra

01. Into The Unknown Wilderness
02. The Way of Bleeding Bark
03. Children of the Glade
04. Lady of Three Faces
05. Echtra

[08/23/11]
[Forest Moon Special Products]

I am experiencing some major cognitive dissonance right now. My ears tell me that I’m listening to top notch pagan/folk/viking/black metal (PFVBM), but my eyes are saying that Oakhelm are from Oregon. I have no idea how this works out, but let me make it clear: Echtra is the dream PFVBM record, and Oakhelm can clearly give any Scandinavian mountain-dweller a run for his money. So, without further ado, let’s all mount our battle axes and take a trip to the grvm, northern mountains of…Portland.

All jokes aside, Oakhelm have got the spirit down to its finest details. The production sounds raw and desolate, as if recorded in a cabin in the cold darkness. All the songs except for the title track are at least 6+ minutes long, with the first track, “Into the Unknown Wilderness” clocking at an impressive 11 minutes. Why is song length relevant? Because the ambience constructed by the blackened/pagan elements wouldn’t work well in short songs. Oakhelm weave fist pumping viking metal riffs into black metal riffs with great expertise, which then turn into epic folk melodies. The vocals are mostly your traditional black/folk/viking metal rasp, although there are some occasional clean chants. The instrumentation is mostly bare-bones, but there is some occasional accordion thrown in to amplify the folk feel, and it all works beautifully.

What Echtra really has going for it is the soul, the melancholy and the incredible authenticity on display. I was genuinely shocked when I discovered Oakhelm weren’t a Scandinavian band. The songwriting is perfect, nothing is out of place and every riff perfectly flows into one other. Obviously, one shouldn’t expect any over the top technical display here, because that’s not the point. Echtra is deliberately oldschool, hearkening back to a time when obscure Scandinavian bands made great, raw metal in their basements.

I keep returning to this notion, but it’s the entire point of this record: This album is incredibly oldschool and bare bones. That might put off many a less historically inclined listener who is used to sleek production values or all-out technical displays provided by many bands today. To me, this brings back many memories, of my time spent in Finland listening to Dark Tranquillity‘s Skydancer, of my listening to oldschool black metal in my room in cold winter nights, of being blown away by the rawness of Amon Amarth‘s The Crusher when I first heard it.

There are only so many ways that I can say how incredible this album is, especially for a fan of raw, archaic Scandinavian music. If you’re a fan like I am, I don’t think you can really find any fault in this album. If you’re not, you’ll probably have nothing that you can take home from this album. However, if you want to get into this sort of music this album is a great entry point as it is moderately accessible and an excellent example. I have no clue how these guys got into the mood for this music in Portland, but all the more power to them; Echtra is great.

Oakhelm – Echtra gets…

5/5

– NT

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