|#FOR FANS OF: Black/Doom, Agalloch|
'Unhallowed Blood Oath' has a strong start with “Oblivion Winds”, a rather tepid middle section, and comes back with a vengeance in “White Death's Wings” and “All Thrones Perish”. The beginning and end play very closely to Agalloch's atmosphere and attitude, so much so that they have trouble taking flight to glimpse the extent of their own realms of conquest and instead dance through sure and charted jet streams. “Oblivion Winds” creates a gale of diminishing tremolos that weep over wide landscapes and tear through trees. This opus of an opening then slows down with a piano riff in the background, urging the ivories to wail in synchronicity with guitars before rising into a fiddler's melody.
“Bloodlust & Vengeance” sounds like the soundtrack to a cavalry charge across a windswept plain as shining sabres fell fleeing fodder. On a high sea of grass lowlanders fertilize the soil as claymores sever arms from torsos and carve regiments in twain. The under produced echoing vocals dart out from behind a wall of tremolo that should be far more satisfying to the black metal tuned ear. However authenticity is lacking. The high strung bloodlust contorts into a vengeance that fails to hit the expected blistering, almost atonal, shrieking apex so desired after a downpour of harmonies freezes into the tendrils of a river of blood. These apogees find their thunder in a double bass gallop but the snare and cymbal are immobile sentinels in spite of every attempt made by these guitar gusts to breathe some life into their low-end compliment. For a song as ambitiously titled as “Bloodlust & Vengeance” there is no payoff, no cathartic release, there is only a feel of frustrated fortissississimo.
This is where Nightwolf sticks to what is safe rather than goes out on a limb to personalize his music. The presentation of this album has all the trappings of an individual black metaller. Yet the music follows the flock so stolidly that it cannot even envision the extent of the paddock in which it is confined. “As Old Gates Unfurl” is a replicated experiment in atmosphere with a mixture of acoustic distance and that nearly atonal drawn-out chanting Norse vocal that Agalloch so readily employed throughout its storied career. This momentary peace aims the celestial gaze at you before “Heaven In Blood” makes you digest some Venom. Still, this deepest, darkest descent doesn't do more than try to sound evil with a chorus that indistinctly growls as it stumbles into the most mainstream notions of black metal, employing the stereotype rather than playing the style.
A noticeable change in production occurs when a far lower fidelity announces the shrill guitar harmony of “White Death's Wings”. Each instrument calls to the other from distant peaks atop their howling riffs, aligning the intricate notation through celestial curvature in Celtic concert. Here is where beautality arrives and the album reaches its memorable moments. The fury from before was tepid yet this new concentration of will and power finally brings the personality necessary to propel this album from its most average doldrums.
With its lead guitars trumpeting atop a dim and flickering background of dreary harmony “All Thrones Perish” brings long echoing vocal harmonies to fill the middle range as small guitar licks play in folksy candor to the frantic cadence of black metal's hurry. The combination grows with the addition of another guitar, flourishing with a tertiary tangle that wraps the growing vine to passionately penetrate the earth. These first three minutes harness the emotionally exhausting atmosphere of “As Embers Dress the Sky” and with a name like “All Thrones Perish” this rhythm seems to longingly call out in reverence to the now defunct Agalloch with its bass and percussion combination employed in unmistakable mimicry.
Though Nightwolf finds moments to eloquently call forth the fervent and expressive themes expected in a modern black metal release while simultaneously strolling through his own fiefdom of the Australian bush, the majority of this album is forgettable and bland. 'Unhallowed Blood Oath' plays as though a love letter written by a fan who dipped his toe into the black lake rather than as the result of a black metal musician bringing himself into the fold. With sycophantic and reverential tones that fail to personalize the space, despite a keen knowledge of each ingredient necessary for success, the proximity to Agalloch and gushing worship outweigh the aptitude for exploration needed to make this album anything more than an appetizer before venturing back into the likes of 'Ashes Against the Grain'. Befitting of the album's title, this blood oath need not be honored as another average Australian aimlessly appreciates the already accomplished and aggravatingly avoids anything atypical. (Five_Nails)