Oak Pantheon - The Absence review
|Release date:||January 2023|
01. Becoming None
04. Beating Heart
05. Bard Of The Hell-Bent Ages
07. Silence We Plead
08. Old Yarn
The pantheon opens up. More members, more sounds.
Even by its name alone Oak Pantheon clearly evokes Agalloch, and as Agalloch disbanded just as Oak Pantheon released their undisputed masterpiece, 2016's In Pieces, an album that had clear influence from the folky/post/prog black metal sound of Agalloch but took it towards a sound that still felt unique towards Oak Pantheon, it felt like a passing of the torch moment at the time. Sure, it wasn't the first Oak Pantheon album, 2012's From A Whisper also being pretty great, but not as big of a watershed album, and 2018's Sol EP being a purely neofolk album only made Agalloch comparisons more valid, but one can imagine the huge expectations that would come for Oak Pantheon's next move, as both post-Agalloch bands have since broken up, and as a full seven years have passed since In Pieces. And there have been some changes.
The most important change in the Oak Pantheon camp is that the band is no longer a duo, but a fully-fledged band. Bass and drum duties are now handled by Jake Spanier and Andrew Anderson respectively. The second change is that The Absence is a more bite-sized album at 40 minutes, compared to the past-the-hour-mark runtimes of their previous full-lengths, while also not sporting any big epics. This does create an album that feels a bit more straight-forward in appearance, but also one where the band tries to further expand their sound out of the Agalloch comparisons, valid as they still are for the most part of their sound. There's more left-field turns, from the very alt-heavy sounds of "Listen!" to the post-punk of "Dissociate" to the celtic punk sounds of "Bard Of The Hell-Bent Angels", it does certainly feel like Oak Pantheon are getting quite stylistically ambitious, all the while still trying to retain their core sound at heart.
There's a bit that goes against The Absence in the fact that it is both more succinct and more diverse than its predecessors, as if the band tried to make too big of a step too soon (despite the huge gap between albums), not really leaving a lot of runtime that would be needed to fully explore the new ideas that they bring, with each song being pretty short while also having a distinct sound, it makes the listening experience of the whole album border on inconsistent. Oak Pantheon work best on some sounds more than others, but the skills they showcase here on amping up the diversity is something to be lauded despite some of it not fully working, because when it does work it makes The Absence a pretty exciting listen, and aside from the detours, one can still clearly tell why the core sound of the band resonated so hard from the beginning. It is weird to say that you enjoy an album's potential more than the final product for a band that has been at it for more than a decade, but that's still what The Absence fundamentally does.
I wouldn't want Oak Pantheon to stop exploring sounds, since a lot of what makes The Absence unique is exactly that. I just want them to have more space to properly explore their sound and figure out what really works, and hopefully the new full band format means a shorter wait for a follow-up this time around.
||Written on 30.01.2023 by|
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