Label: Hammerheart Records
Date: September 15th, 2023
From the home of UK doom / death metal comes another debutant! Whoever at Hammerheart Records is sniffing around the old isles up there has a serious knowhow at picking just the right representative of the genre that started drooping atop the world from right there about three decades ago. Slow and heavy, UK variant of death metal has its “Peaceville trio”, but there comes a whole new generation and can we go for the “Hammerheart trio”? Thy Listless Heart (okay, it’s a bit further away from death metal, but still close enough), Tumulation (coming from the former colony, but British enough) and now Roots Of The Old Oak.
I’ll settle down now, but if history should prove me right, here it is, clearly presented before the doomed race of men. I thought of it first!
Now, back to the Roots Of The Old Oak. The trio at hand seems to have a history behind them, this being the third band they are all involved with. Still, according to the world wide web, this is their first attempt at such depths of sonority. When I first heard their name, genre and topics of choice and the country of origin, I couldn’t help but think of the old Fangorn forest from Mr. Tolkien’s mythos. Old in age, dense, suffocating, menacing… Then the opening track turned out being called “I Defy Thee” and there was this stubborn disinterest of Treebeard and his fellows at the troubles worldwide that earned their notoriety. In this instance, these Brits are defying the infestation of Christian beliefs and values into their own tradition, just like the said forest defied Saruman’s “mind of metal and wheels”. In accordance with the famed story, there are titles such as “Forest Dweller” (Gandalf the White, perhaps), “The Devil and His Wicked Ways” (Saruman, obviously), “Allfather (A Wanderers Tale)” (Treebeard himself) and “Take the Throne” (battle of Isengard, perhaps).
The appearance of the devilish wolves, coupled with Celtic and Norse symbols on the cover might suggest my imagination has run a bit wild. The wolves, even the infamous Wargs, couldn’t survive very long in Fangorn and Eru Ilúvatar forbid someone was to carve these runes into the trees’ barks.
Anyway, I haven’t had the chance with the lyrics to this record, but it’s fun to think about it. Regarding music, there’s much less to think about. “The Devil and His Wicked Ways” is a fairly straight-forward death / doom metal album. Much akin to early Paradise Lost and Anathema, as advertised, though I would suggest Roots Of The Old Oak is a bit sturdier than the pioneers. More tough, if you will, not letting the melancholic atmosphere take full charge unless it is specifically requested by the song’s own goal. Then again, the counterargument could be that the sound on the record is just a speck too tight and plastic, while the mentioned heroes kept it organic and alive in their early days.
However, those do not deter from the overall impression. Though far from being original or, if I may say so, even attempting to be such, Roots Of The Old Oak have a few neat ideas that serve them right. Best one, if you ask me (and you are, since you’re reading my presentation of the album), comes in song number three, “Forest Dweller”, with the “bass only” passages that take away your breath while you’re waiting for the sledgehammer to arrive. Displays of early Black Sabbath dedication can be found in the title track, bending those strings to breaking point and that weeping solos behind. Also, not mentioned in the promotional packaging, the musician behind the piano here adds a touch. The opening duo, “I Defy Thee” and “Cheating the Hangman” are by far the catchiest of the eight songs that make-up this recording, melodic guitars dominating and all.
Oh, one important piece of information. For all the paganisms being the theme of the whole thing, the musical side of “The Devil and His Wicked Ways” has none of the traditional instruments (at least none I could discern), beer-drinking shenanigans, Celtic folk influences one can dance to or other nonsense. It’s a straight-up slow death metal record. Not the weeping kind though, as there’s little real sadness to be found here. Although I believe keyboards are filling the background occasionally (again, the artist in charge remains nameless), these mostly remain songs to halls up high, rather than mourns towards the fallen lovers, brothers, husbands or fathers.
For all my praise, and well-deserved at that, “The Devil and His Wicked Ways” is not a groundbreaking release. You might have already guessed that somewhere around the time I wrote about it being a straight-forward death / doom metal release. While it might be true that this is a very good release, it is another debut that shows promise of a bright future instead of instant success. A call to follow the future ventures of Roots Of The Old Oak, but like I always say, it’s a good enough record so that you can go out and get it, if nothing else, just to be able to brag later on that you have the first press of a debut by a well-known band.