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Very Commendable - 88%

Razakel, September 28th, 2009

Oakenshield is a one man band from the UK under the control of Ben Corkhill. With Oakenshield, Corkhill plays majestic pagan metal in the vein of the early classics of the genre. Gylfaginning is the bands first full length offering, and was put forth in the summer of 2008. Some have said that the band lacks originality and is perhaps too inspired by others, but I would dispute this by saying that this kind of music is certainly not what most folk metal bands are doing now. Nay, Oakenshield is a band with a true passion which seeps its way into the beautiful music, paying homage to the ways of old.

If you’ve heard this band compared to Falkenbach, you should know what to expect. The music is epic and usually delivered at a pounding mid-tempo, and while I wouldn’t go so far as to say it lives up to Falkenbach’s material, Corkhill’s attention to detail is what brings out the many memorable melodies on this album; the first of which appears shortly into the opening track, Ginnungagap. The melodic guitar riff leads seamlessly into a beautiful recorder performance to make an outstanding first impression. The remainder of the song, in fact, is a nice outline of things to come. It contains a nice delivery of harsh vocals, some more melodious breaks, and even impressively performed clean chanting. The diversity within the music continues with the use of violins, which are a major highlight in songs such as Yggdrasil, which is a personal favourite. I just love the bombastic opening, the light middle interlude, and then the explosive violin melody in the latter part of the song, quite reminiscent of Månegarm.

Corkhill puts a large focus on atmosphere with the somewhat gruff production and some ambient keyboard sections (around the middle of The Aesir) which I find to be more effective than the strange synth noises near the end of The Sons Of Bor. As far as instrumentation goes in general, I don’t have any complaints about the guitars (although it would have been nice to hear more acoustics), however the drum machine becomes a bit obvious and even irritating at times. While it doesn’t impair the music to large degree, it’s just a shame that a real drummer couldn’t have been used to strengthen the natural sound of the music. The vocals, on the other hand, are an overall highlight. Fairly standard harsh vocals are what are most commonly used, however clean sections are present in most songs to varying amounts. The clean vocal section in the latter half of Idavoll is accompanied with violin and makes for a great moment of the album.

I find comfort in the fact that there are new bands like Oakenshield popping up to pay tribute to the mighty roots of real folk metal. While I don’t have a problem with the genre rapidly increasing in popularity, it’s still good to know that there are those out there who will always keep the old flame alive and continue to worship Hammerheart-era Bathory until the fires of Ragnarok.

Gylfaginning - The Beginning - 85%

Morhguel, September 26th, 2009

Oakenshield is a one-man project from the UK, playing epic/viking metal with folk elements, so there’s no surprise in that I’ve gotten interested in this project as a fan of this genre. Besides, it’s always exciting to hear a band playing in a musical style which is unusual in its home country. And above all, Ben Corkhill, the sole member of Oakenshield was so young (15 yo) when he established the former version of the current project in 2004, which was called Nifelhel. After an unsuccessful try and 2 released demos, he changed name while he was working with the Gylfaginning demo, the harbinger of his first full-length. So I’m holding his debut album in my hands now, and if I didn't know about the circumstances, I would say without doubt that this is a record of a well-known professional band.

The lookout is really fascinating, the booklet is beautiful with nice graphics, it’s simply great. And if you just take a look on the cover, the band’s name and logo, the name of the tracks and the lyrics, you can almost describe Oakenshield’s music, and after listening Gylfaginning, you will affirm that your intuition was correct. Despite its variety, the music never passes the genre’s boundaries, Oakenshield stays strictly on its self-imposed path, but he makes benefit from it, because of this, the record becomes consistent and whirling. I say whirling although the record isn’t fast, the tempo moves within the range of the epic-slow and the mid-tempo, but maybe this is why it has a very special and moving atmosphere.

Oakenshield’s music is usually compared to Falkenbach, and surely, there are similarities beside that both are one-man projects and both plays metal with folk/epic/viking elements, but I think, Corkhill’s music has a bit different tone. In my opinion the mood of the main elements here is less hymnic but has a more floating feeling, and more complex elements can be heard in the guitar leads – the construction of the songs sometimes a bit similar to Tyr’s. Featuring the violin and the flute was a really great idea, it makes the music more varied, some of these parts remind me the slower themes of the Danish folkstar-newcomers Svartsot. Although the violin was recorded by a guest musician, except that all instruments and vocals were performed by Ben, and what can I say, he did a great job. He’s got a nice voice either, both the harsh vocals and the choir vocals are really good. Honestly, firstly I took this record with a grain of salt because of the drum-machine, I thought that its rude sound could ruin the atmosphere, but fortunately it doesn’t, the record has a good sound in general, and the drum-machine’s sound isn’t bothering at all.

The overall image is more than hopeful, it’s a really nice, professional work. I cannot mention any song as a highlight, because this album is so smooth. The atmoshpere is strong, and this record is surely at the same level with other well-known releases in this genre. This is their debut, so it was just the first well-made step to win renown, and I think, it was a success. If you favor viking and folk elements within metal, or if you just want to go on an hour-long epic journey to the atmosphere of the norse mythology, then Gylfaginning is recommended for you.

( Originally written for http://kronosmortus.hu )

Oakenshield - Gylfaginning - 75%

Radagast, May 22nd, 2009

The fact that the project shares a name with an Elvenking song and hails from the U.K. (home of folk metal trendwhores since 2006) meant the defences were up a little before the first listen, but thankfully Oakenshield proved to be a different prospect altogether, a throwback to the more traditional, black metal-derived variation of the genre.

A one-man project from York, the songs on this debut (since changing name and style a couple of years ago) are heartening examples of tasteful, epic viking metal that belie their structural simplicity to create something grand and absorbing.

Chiefly midtempo right the way through, it is a CD that requires a little patience to appreciate, and folk metal fans that prefer manic speed and danceable rhythms will not find much for them here. The focus is on atmosphere, and a neatly-balanced mixture of instruments and techniques has been put together by mastermind Ben Corkhill that interlaces with the lyrical themes – all taken from the Prose Edda book ‘Gylfaginning’, from which the CD takes its name – quite perfectly.

The songs are all built on fairly simple riffs and prominent, driving bass lines, and it is the variety of the vocals and instruments that reveal the CD’s biggest success. Corkhill’s vocals vary between blackened croaks (which seem a little monotone at first but actually tie in with the nature of the CD very well) and effects-aided sonorous chanting and ominous spoken word sections quoted directly from the ancient texts. “Utgarda-Loki” features some of the best use of spoken vocals, and they tie in with the unusual keyboard arrangements on what is a strange, but in the end very rewarding song.

The keyboards – set to a chilling, icy tone rather than imitating anything in particular - are used interchangeably with recorders, good old-fashioned lead guitar and some violin parts (provided by a guest musician), with each taking turns in different sections of different songs to have the spotlight. Corkhill has been especially careful in mixing these elements up to ensure there is never an over-reliance on a single technique that often undermine folk metal CDs – just look at the excessive flute use on Svartsot’s debut for proof of that – and it is to his credit that ‘Gylfaginning’ keeps the listener guessing even after repeated listens. The massive closing track, “Vigrid” features a particularly impressive use of the different instruments, as the conclusion sees a confluence of the whole lot that wraps the CD up perfectly.

The recording is clearly intended to be taken as a single greater work rather than a collection of songs to be individually dissected, but some deserve special mention in any case. Some brief chanting aside, “The aesir” is practically an instrumental, and one of sweeping operatic brilliance at that, which carries shades of ‘Hvis lyset tar oss’-era Burzum. Shifting through a few different tempos, it eventually settles on one of the CD's heaviest riffs before segueing seamlessly into “Fenris”, which carries on the more aggressive, BM-associated vibe to impressive effect.

Complaints are minimal – the long-winded nature of the CD means it definitely isn’t one for all occasions and the thought presents itself from time to time that on the whole just a little bit more immediacy would have been of benefit, with the lead guitar maybe just a little underused throughout. Otherwise, only the fact that the drums are programmed occasionally causes a little discomfort, as on occasion their artificial nature becomes a little too apparent despite the clear time and effort Corkhill has put into making sure the beats are varied and intricate. I can understand the mystique and, indeed, the practicality of the one-man band set-up, but in future enlisting the services of a human drummer may be something for him to look at.

As a debut though, ‘Gylfaginning’ is predominantly a very impressive one, likely to have something to offer to purists and more receptive newcomers alike. It’s quite a simple equation really; if epic viking metal is your thing, then so are Oakenshield.

(Originally written for http://www.metalcdratings.com/)

Oakenshield - Gylfaginning - 75%

ravenhearted, September 11th, 2008

If I told you that Ben Corkhill plays mid-tempo Viking Metal, even though he hails from England, you would probably already get a pretty good idea of what OAKENSHIELD sounds like. With epic songs centered around the first Edda book, which is the ancient Norse collection of mythological poems, there isn't really much that separates this project from the flock, at least on paper.

Since the music never breaks its mid-paced crawl, many of the epic hymns on "Gylfaginning" have an underlying feeling of melancholy and longing. The guitar and bass are accompanied by a wonderful violin, and some tolerable programmed drums that never really grabs too much attention, which is probably for the best. Vocally, Corkhill mostly delivers the harsh kind, with some spoken words and chants thrown in for good measure. Relevant musical points of reference could be FALKENBACH or the Swedish group YGGDRASIL, but there's no denying that OAKENSHIELD stands on its own armored legs perfectly well. Despite the generic approach, Corkhill seems to have full control over what he's doing (and he's really doing everything, even mixing and producing), and the songs are all very strong by themselves, without breaking the wholeness of the album. The album art is worthy of praise as well, being some of the most beautiful I've seen all year, and the perfect companion to the equally atmospheric music.

If you're interested in Norse mythology and bands that deal with this in a serious manner, you ought it to yourself to get "Gylfaginning". Even though an injection of originality would have been appreciated, at least it's not happy-humppa Battle Metal, and that alone should be enough to catch your attention.

(Online September 11, 2008)

Ailo Ravna

Written for the Metal Observer.