Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Rituals of the Oak: Come Taste the Doom (2012)


I’m not sure why people have a problem with female-fronted traditional doom. If there’s any metal genre that could use a feminine counterpoint, it’s trad-doom. While metal usually has plenty of notes and a huge wall of sound, effectively choking out anything but the most powerful of true “singing” voices, the sparse compositions of doom allow the female voice room to breathe. Sure, in some cases using a woman is barely better than a gimmick, but there are those bands that know exactly how to make it work.

Rituals of the Oak has it all figured out on Come Taste the Doom. Here, the Aussie quartet offers up five tracks of pure doom metal, fronted by an effective feminine voice. Sabine Hamad-Linfoot has an earthy husk that perfectly fits the druidic impression given by their band name and lyrics. Think a mellowed-out Uta Plotkin (Witch Mountain). Or Jinx Dawson (Coven) if she wasn’t so damned goofy. Hamad-Linfoot’s delivery is simple and understated, but she conveys emotion and crescendos nicely when needed. Most importantly, her voice is well-controlled and beautifully enchanting.

The rest of the band fully understands that, really, this is all about her voice. They always give her room. Opener “Here” has them barely making any noise as she sings her part of the verse, then they rock hard before easing up once again. Their riffs are just as mellow as her voice, but as with the vocal work, they also know when to kick things into gear. Rather than being content to simply plod along without variation, as is the downfall of many a trad-doom band, they regularly alternate between slow and mid-tempo.

The production work is, in a word, perfect. In other words, you might forget that it was produced at all, because it simply sounds like a pristine live performance, sans extraneous noise. There is nothing, psychologically, to stand between you and the music itself. The drums have a natural sound, and the guitar and bass tones are everything you could want. Every sound has enough room to breathe, and the volume is set low enough to allow variation and prevent clipping. Album highlight “On the Sixth Moon” is perhaps the best example of the excellent work at the control board. It features just about the only moment to remind you this is a recording, with a nice layered vocal melody.

The approach is compelling, the mood is infectious, and the sound is excellent. But there is a weakness. The songwriting is not quite there. Yes, they understand their craft well and write to their strengths. And many of the riffs and vocal melodies are fairly well memorable. But there’s nothing revolutionary, and nothing that will make you play air guitar while listening in public.

The Verdict: Despite songwriting that doesn’t hit a higher plane, this is a very good album with a great sound and mellow mood. It will take the edge off. I give it 4 out of 5 stars.

[Note 1: this review originally appeared on]

[Note 2: the album will be released January 27th]

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