The weather has a big role in what I decide to listen to a lot if times as however it feels outside makes my brain and heart want certain things. We’re in a weird limbo here where I live where it should be frigid and snowy, yet that hasn’t really panned out quite yet in January, so the bands and records that usually get precedence in this period are sitting and waiting. And now we have a new one to add.
We haven’t heard from Minnesota’s Oak Pantheon in about seven years at least as far as full-length records are concerned, with their last being 2016’s beefy “In Pieces.” Luckily, the drought is about to end with the arrival of “The Absence,” an eight-track, 41-minute opus that is their shortest album to date but also their tightest. On this, their third record, the band—guitarists and vocalists Sami Sati and Tanner Swenson (the band’s initial duo), bassist Jake Spanier, and drummer Andy Anderson—not only expands their ranks, they also have solidified their sound. They remain woodsy atmospheric black metal in scope, with folk flourishes throughout, but they also clearly have grown as artists, which this record demonstrates. They’re joined by guest performers Joe McCumber of Decisions and Catey Swenson of Silence We Plead on guest vocals as well as Kakophonix (Becoming None, Beating Heart, Silence We Plead, Old Yarn) on cello, and they add texture to a rousing Oak Pantheon collection that brings the band right back to the forefront of those making great music that’ll sound perfect on icy winter days.
“Becoming None” starts with lush acoustics and rushing atmosphere, feeling active and vibrant, strings carving and rupturing. Singing gives way to growls and shrieks, the emotion caterwauls, and the end sinks into your bones. “Listen!” has guitar swirling and maniacal guitars knifing through as the playing pummels. Leads stretch out and proggy waters wash over, the call of, “We’ve had enough, just listen!” racing through your blood. Fluid guitars change the temperature, clean singing brings a sense of calm, and the final moments are trudging. “Dissociate” is dark with growled lines, gothy undertones delivering thicker darkness as the bass playing roils. The desperate cry of, “Watching it all fall down,” hits center as guitars bubble and race, aggravating raging fires. “Beating Heart” is serene and channeled, clean singing creaking as sadness and longing become major factors. Harmonized calls give a whisp of autumn air, strings glaze, and things settle as your inner tension finally subsides.
“Bard of the Hell-Bent Ages” absolutely destroys, peeling soil from the earth and chewing into psyches as a spirited gallop rips across the land. Speed adds to the mix, and breathy calls destroy as the guitars take on more heat. Melodies soar as the feelings rupture, ripping through with wild howls and chaos. “Decisions” bleeds with warm guitars and a tempo that gains momentum, the growls and shrieks tangling your nerve endings. Ample crunch and maniacal cries do battle as the punishment increases and refuses to release its grip until the end. “Silence We Plead” starts gently, hinting at woodsy ride, but that’s temporary as the track explodes. Slide guitars add a slurry texture, feeling rustic and Midwestern, and the call of, “I’m not king for this world,” jolts bones. Swenson’s singing adds a different element as she calls over the madness, a calculated strike mounts, and the final strains burn away. Closer “Old Yarn” balances light and dark as the acoustic strains give way to damage, and creaky shouts mix with hearty singing. The playing continues to disrupt, a thunderous pace makes your blood rush, and everything ends with you heaving, your lungs doing battle with the frigid air.
Oak Pantheon show remarkable growth on their first record in ages as “The Absence” displays maturity and sharp songwriting that prove this band is ready to measure up with the masters of the atmospheric black metal realm. We all know that’s saturated territory, so being able to create something powerful and well served and knowing when to trim the excess is key. This is an exciting record with peaks and valleys, rivers of emotion, and a wild spirit that can capture your imagination easily.
For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/OakPantheon
To buy the album, go here: https://oakpantheon.bandcamp.com/album/the-absence