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Oakenshield - Legacy - 70%

Radagast, October 6th, 2012

Ben Corkhill took his time in delivering the follow-up to his Oakenshield project’s pleasing debut CD, with nearly 4 years passing before this follow-up saw the light of day. The result is a successor which makes little forward motion from the debut, but is content to shore up the project’s existing style with a few minor tweaks along the way, with similarly agreeable results.

The differences, such as they are, between ‘Legacy’ and ‘Gylfaginning’, are subtle, but definitely worth noting. Most notable is that the new CD is 3 songs and around 15 minutes shorter than the debut, making it a slightly more digestible effort without sacrificing any of Oakenshield’s traditional viking metal style.

A more subtle change, though, comes with Corkill’s switch in lyrical tact. While ‘Gylfaginning’ drew from the segment of the ancient Prose Edda with which it shares a name, ‘Legacy’, as the title would suggest, chronicles the many Norse invasions of the British Isles and the lasting effect had on the culture thereafter, particularly in the author’s native Yorkshire.

In this respect Oakenshield now share some ground with the burgeoning ‘heritage metal’ acts that are cropping up in England, though they remain dissimilar enough beyond the obvious Anglo-Saxon/Viking differences to keep a respectable distance. The furious, cascading, melancholy of the likes of Winterfylleth remains off the menu for Oakenshield, and the meandering and distinctly Norse-sounding melodies and rhythms keep them firmly in the folk/black bracket.

‘Legacy’ perhaps offers a more unified sound than its more sprawling predecessor, and the increased presence of the violin sees a unifying of the guitar/recorder/violin tenet more often than on the debut where each instrument usually took turns at playing lead. This is a 2-edged sword in a sense, as while the CD seems to surge with a greater sense of urgency, a little individual character is perhaps sapped from a few of the songs.

On the performance front, Corkhill continues to make decent use of an admittedly fairly limited black metal scowl, and there are fewer of the spoken passages that occasionally slowed things down in the past. A new addition is the infrequent use of guttural, heroic clean vocals that inject a degree of extra passion into the music. Happily, it can also be reported that the programmed drums sound more authentic this time out, and the double-bass sections no longer draw attention to their artificial nature.

Comparing and contrasting with ‘Gylfaginning’ is a little like splitting hairs though, as while there are definite advances and improvements in some areas, as well as a few things that don’t quite spark as much as on the debut, ‘Legacy’ is definitely to be seen as a companion piece to its predecessor and is on the whole very much in the same vein. Serious development has not been accomplished, but importantly, probably wasn’t even sought. Sometimes the wheel doesn’t need to be reinvented, and this 2nd helping of old-school viking metal from Oakenshield should serve as proof enough of that.

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

Commonplace, but still a worthy listen - 75%

doomknocker, March 1st, 2012

Atmosphere is everything, especially in the folk/Viking metal world. Everyone who’s everyone knows it, and even as far back as when the genre had a blackened edge, that feeling of being there, in those woods, clad in pelt and a bloodied sword in one’s hand, was to be the norm when it came to bands that would continue to mean something in the years to come. So far, I’ve only found a few acts who haven’t been able to commence such a conveyance of emotional overload, thankfully, and even then, their continued lack of substance leaves them by the wayside. And with good reason.

And it’s with that in mind that I took to Oakenshield’s latest, to see if they (he?) had what it took to take me on a mental journey through woodlands beyond…

And for what it’s worth, I was proven right in THAT area, at least. Oakenshield prides itself on pushing as much majesty into their own brand of Viking/folk metal (Folking metal?) that this listener is able to enjoy it to as maximum a degree as the songs would allow. Easily coming from the school of early blackened folk, where Vintersorg and pre-electronica Ulver once attended, and keeping the intensity level at 10 even from the get-go, the head honcho of Oakenshield sends waves and waves of symphonic keyboard lines and forest-born melodies, pushed along by blistering riffs, head-bashing percussive ends and some rather watered-down but still effective growls/snarls and clean chanting (totally in that old ’Sorg/Maenpaa vein) that, combined, swallow the listener whole and is truly able to make the rest of the “real” world vanish throughout its entire duration. That’s something to really give it credit for, if nothing else.

All of this pushes towards the grandiose level, indeed, but some of it can only go so far as a result of a rather limited songwriting level. The melodies and arrangements are strong at first glance, that’s for sure, but, and I’m a bit loathe to say it, things start to sound a bit too familiar around halfway through the disc, and though the majestic end of the music is still as powerful as before, I’d say that it could use a bit more oomph in dynamics and arrangements (maybe some faster movements to rub elbows with and make the mid-paced galloping that much better to deal with? Just a suggestion, as the majority of the music plods along like a hike over hills and fells versus running with sword in hand.). That being said, though, the performance itself is still earnest with plentiful energy to spare, as heard in songs like “Jorvik”, “Wen Heath” and “Eternal as the Earth”.

So all in all, Oakenshield serves up a pretty impressive slab of sword-and-helmet-clad metal best served for those long voyages across freezing waters, raring for battles to come. In spite of its limitations, it can still be a worthy listen for those looking for more tree-strewn musical landscapes.