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Back in with the old, but sounds so new - 90%

Derigin, December 21st, 2018
Written based on this version: 2018, Digital, Independent

Oakenshield is back, and Lyke Wake Dirge is just as good, if not better than the band's previously, critically acclaimed work. Which makes sense, given the fact that it was recorded before the band's six year hiatus. Regardless, it is still by far one of the best viking metal EPs for 2018, and I certainly hope the band has used this EP as a demonstration of things to come in a longer, more fleshed out album.

What makes it so great? Well, first, if you've previously enjoyed Oakenshield's work, you will enjoy this EP, too. The band's characteristic and talented take on viking metal remains, in spite of the fact that this project has been in hiatus for the previous six years. As the man behind the band, Ben Corkhill is not only a talented musician, who takes his craft and his creations seriously, he's also added his own spin to viking metal that sets it apart from so many other viking metal bands that simply worship and repeat the sound of other, more famous bands. In this case, he has more in common with Quorthon and Valfar in wanting to develop something different and unique - to experiment and discover one's own style - than those other bands that simply wish to mimic the greats. It's not only clear that he draws inspiration from bands like Bathory, Windir, and even Agalloch, but that he also is willing to look at unconventional sources as his muse.

Nowhere, I think, is that clearer than his choice of inspiration as far as folk music goes, at least in this EP. It's rare you have what I as a Canadian would know of as 'maritime music' applied so well in a metal album. In this case you have two tracks, "Twa Corbies" and "Lyke Wake Dirge" which each have a different take on that maritime motif, with the former drawing its style from traditional Scottish folk music, and the latter drawing its style from traditional English folk music. With both you have sorrowful, reflective and yet vibrant poetic singing supported by a beat that's constantly moving forward and matching the changes in vocal intonation. And with Lyke Wake Dirge, Corkhill didn't just take two traditional British folk songs and drop them into his music, no, he experiments and melds them into viking metal in ways that help bridge both styles of music. He uses guitars to supplement the vocals, and gives them their own instrumental chorus. He uses harsh vocals sung in the same style as the clean vocals, and at times layers them to provide each other support. And, in spite of all this experimentation everything sounds well executed. It's practically perfect.

Where I take issue with this EP isn't in its first two tracks, but with the Bathory cover of "Man of Iron" that is attached as the third and last track. It's not a bad cover at all, and if you like Agalloch as well as viking metal I'm sure you'll like this cover. It stays relatively faithful to the sound of the original, at least as far as the original's use of acoustic guitars and clean vocals. Although, here Corkhill decided to append a more traditional viking metal portion to the track that utilizes harsh vocals and seems closer to what Bathory was all about. For that, I give him credit; in sound it is closer to the Bathory sound we know and love than the original. That said, the 'feel' for the track feels off to me, and I think it has much to do with the vocals. Quorthon was never a particularly talented vocalist, but what he lacked in his ability to sing he made up for in his ability to convey emotion, feeling, passion. The original "Man of Iron" is sung with such sad reflection, but also self-confidence, honor and optimism. Somehow Quorthon was able to convey that so convincingly, time and time again. I just don't sense that with this cover. I don't fault Corkhill for it, either. It's really hard to do what Quorthon did; his are shoes I don't think any of us are truly capable of wearing.

Do I recommend this? Yes, it's definitely worth a listen or two or three. Now I understand that this was previously recorded material, but the choice to highlight this in an EP in 2018 is telling. If Lyke Wake Dirge is a precursor of what's to come, and the direction Corkhill might take Oakenshield, than I am eagerly awaiting what the future holds for the revival of this project. If it's just a fluke, then so be it, but I don't think I'll be disappointed either way.