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ALBUMS THAT WILL F*CK YOUR FACE OFF IN 2011: OAKHELM, ECHTRA

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Oakhelm
Echtra
Label – Forest Moon Special Products
Release Date – Late Summer 2011

Oakhelm’s debut full-length, Betwixt aAnd Between, came busting out of the Northwest back in 2007 (already!). To black folk metal devotees, it was an awesome amalgamation of the experienced, genre-crossing members of Assück, Fall Of The Bastards, L’Acephale and Wormwood (among others); for the uninformed, it was just a great fucking album. And even though the follow-up was on my list of most anticipated records of 2010Forest Moon Special Products‘ John Strachan assures me it’s coming out later this year.

But what to expect from Oakhelm, obviously a band of seasoned vets with little to prove musically, this time around? Speaking recently with Strachan, I got a taste of things to come from the Portland troupe, and they’re even better this time around.

“They’ve just stepped up the game song-wise, I think. The riffs by far,” Strachan says of the forthcoming Echtra. “First and foremost, the riff after the opening intro is pretty much Opeth reincarnate from the early days.” [At this point, I am thinking to myself, “Yes! When they were more about plain old riffs!”] Of course, Strachan continues, “…Before Opeth sucked, but with more Viking sounds to it. And Pete [Jay, vocals] has his own delivery. Almost like when you’ve heard them, you’ll always know when Oakhelm is on.”

While I have to politely object to the statement about the current crop of Opeth output completely sucking, the Oakhelm riffs — any riff on Echtra, really — are masterful and beyond memorable. If Betwixt and Between was an introduction to what Oakhelm had in store for the extreme underground, then Echtra is a masterpiece of a follow-up; a tough task to top one of 2007’s best albums.

This time out, there’s more flow between the six songs that make up the folky blend of black metal and Norse Viking tones — despite Echtra’s brief 38-minute playing time. In fact, it’s all too easy to hit the repeat button once the record ends. Regardless of which song is playing for the second, third, or eighth time, there are about twelve different riffs, leads, or hauntingly sung vocal melodies littered across any given swath of musical landscape. And they’re in good hands again with Billy Anderson (Buzzov•en, Ludicra, High On Fire, Mr. Bungle) recording.

Oakhelm’s style of melody-drenched black metal panned out excellently live during the band’s brief tour in support of Betwixt and Between, so that’s good news for the in-the-works touring plans surrounding the late-summer release the band is currently eyeballing. Expect this one to surprise a lot of listeners with the high level of musicianship and song craft that actually earns the oft-used “epic” tag. And be sure to save some room on your year end list for Echtra. It will more than earn a spot up there.

-BC

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