ALBUM REVIEW: Black Oath ‘To Below And Beyond’

’To Below And Beyond’
Doomentia/Elektroplasma, November 2015

Black Oath’s memorable 2011 debut album ‘The Third Aeon’ established a template of solid, Solitude Aeturnus-style epic doom metal that was massively enjoyable but perhaps lacked variety.

Since then, the Italian band has developed significantly, creating a peculiar blend of misery, versatility and originality. Less heavy and dense than their earlier work, the Milanese band’s third full-length release nevertheless finds them in a rich vein of creativity. Imagine a bristling combination of Hour Of 13, Ghost, Solitude Aeturnus and Trouble.

Black Oath have not moved away from their epic doom roots entirely, but today they approach their songwriting with a new, expansive approach that was beginning to appear on their 2013 album ‘Ov Qliphoth And Darkness’, and again the results are generally pleasing.

There are a few unwelcome gothic indulgences and cheesy moments – too much whispering for some listeners’ tastes – and some of the big choruses reveal a fleeting, unnerving pop sensibility.

The guitar tones are pretty lightweight, too, veering into rock territory – and the album would benefit greatly from turning up to 11 and getting some low-end rumble rather than focusing the mix so heavily on the (admittedly impressive) vocals.

But then, Black Oath prefer to refer themselves as playing “cursed rock musick” rather than doom metal or even doom rock, a conscious effort to disassociate their output from the powerful forces of sorrow that inspired their origins.

Mighty tracks such as ‘Healing Hands Of Time’, ‘Flesh To Gold’ and ‘To Below And Beyond (Ars Diaboli)’ – a song that does not in fact refer to a nasty medical condition – contain some outstanding melodious doom metal moments. Stylish, emotive, spectacular, but simply too lightweight… ‘To Below And Beyond’ is a curious, cursed album from a band that deserves respect for its undoubted creative enterprise.

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