Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Bog Oak - A Treatise On Resurrection And The Afterlife EP (Review)

Album Type: EP
Date Released: 28/11/2014
Label: Svart Records

‘A Treatise On Resurrection And The Afterlife’ CD/LP track listing:

1). The Science of the Afterlife (06:58)
2). The Resurrection of Animals (04:47)
3). Time Drift of Seasons (03:21)
4). A Seas Without Shore (05:23)


"Bog Oak formed in October 2013 around the core of Phillip Gallagher and Matthew Woods Wilhoit, who both lived in the Sacramento area. They met when Gallagher answered an ad placed by Wilhoit looking for someone to jam with. The pair bonded over their mutual love of heavy metal, tube amplifiers, and occult philosophy, writing the songs 'A Shepard’s Teeth for a Winter’s Coat' and 'Dragger' during their first jam session with Gallagher on drums and Wilhoit on guitar.

"After recording these songs at Earth Tone Studios in Rocklin, California, with session bassist Robert Lander, the pair decided to shop their demo around and place an ad for a vocalist. Julie Seymour responded, and got the job after one audition: Gallagher and Wilhoit were impressed with her ability to switch back and forth between black metal screams and ethereal clean singing.

"After a few rehearsals, Gallagher, Wilhoit, and Seymour entered Earth Tone Studios to add vocals to the first two songs and record two new songs, 'Behold, The Valley Of Slaughter' and 'Experiments In Extinction' with Gallagher and Wilhoit sharing bass duties. To achieve a fuller live sound and to expand the harmonic possibility within Bog Oak, Gallagher switched from drums to baritone guitar after recruiting drummer and longtime friend Steven Campbell. Wilhoit recruited longtime friend DBC to act as bassist for live performances.

"Conceptually, Bog Oak embrace all things occult, pulling inspiration from a wide range of esoteric ideas like those of Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa, Aleister Crowley, and Laveyan Satanism, to the ideas of more extremist occult groups like the O9A and the Temple Of Black Light, into the more mystical concepts of Pythagoras, the metaphysics of Mulla Sadra, Suhrawardi’s philosophy of illumination, and the alchemy of Al-Ghazali."

The Band:

Julie Seymour | Vocals
Phillip Gallagher | Guitars, Bass
Steve Campbell | Drums


Today, I find myself preparing to listen to ‘A Treatise On Resurrection And The Afterlife’, by a band known as Bog Oak. Given the name of the group, I expect some filthy sounding sludge (perhaps they should play a show with Swamp Witch?), which is always good, but then, my predictions do not always pan out. This review is largely a first impression, as I'm writing as I'm listening to the songs for the first time.

The first song, "The Science of the Afterlife" opens in classic doom/sludge fashion with feedback and a single, filthy sounding guitar. Almost immediately, though, the song takes an unexpected turn, as the whole band comes in with a surprisingly fast riff. Soon after, the vocalist makes her presence known, and does not disappoint. Julie's growls remind me vaguely of both Laurie Sue from Ludicra, and the late Tristessa of Astarte. After a brutishly heavy section, the vocals switch to a clean singing style, about halfway through the song, the vocal style not quite crooning, but not operatic either. Shortly thereafter, the band returns to their previous pace before descending once more, at the conclusion, to an almost march-like staccato pummelling. A great opening track, though if I have one criticism, it feels a little too short to me. But then, I tend to like my heavy music long and drawn out.

This band seems full of unexpected turns, as "The Resurrection of Animals" opens with a much different riff than anything heard in the opener, the full band coming in with a syncopated drum beat. The style so far is somewhat reminiscent of Black Cobra, except heavier due to there being, it sounds like, bass on this album. Just under three minutes into "Resurrection," the band pauses, and the furious pace set before (if anything, even faster than the opener), is dropped in favor of massive sounding chords with a haunting guitar lead high above them. This lead is replaced by equally eerie clean vocals from Julie, and overall it's almost as if this section is in answer to a hypothetical question "what if Ludicra had played doom metal?" I suppose I should note here, that Ludicra (who sadly broke up a few years ago) put out some of my favorite black metal. Again, if anything, I wish this ending section were longer, as it's fantastic, and I'm guessing that it'll remain stuck in my head for quite a while.

Unlike the previous two songs, "Time Drift of Seasons" does not open with a lone guitar. The whole band comes in with a crushingly heavy riff, though the feel (albeit not the triplet tempo) slows down for clean singing sections that seem to be choruses, before a quiet guitar interlude prefacing an even heavier riff. I wondered how they were going to follow the haunting outro of the previous song, but so far this is some of the best songwriting on the record, and the vocal work further demonstrates that Julie really knows what she's doing, as the singing on this music is incredible. Sadly, it's the shortest song so far. But, again, I'm biased, and would probably listen to this song over and over again even if it were twice or even three times as long.

Concluding the release is "A Sea Without Shore." This album opens with what sounds like some sort of Indian or east Asian instrument... I wish I could identify it just by sound, but I can't, as I admit my knowledge is unfortunately somewhat lacking in that area. The slow riff that follows is suitably heavy, and if anything, combined with the vocals, sets for a deeply mournful atmosphere. The first time I listen to music, I generally don't pay close attention to lyrics, but rather just to the overall sound. The title of this song is quite appropriate, in that sense, as it brings to my mind unending vastness and one's own insignificance in the face of the universe. The clean vocals give way at the end to growls similar to those of Nathan Misterek from Graves at Sea and Laudanum, upping the intensity of the song. Great track, though, this is becoming a bit of a refrain in this review, I feel it could be longer.

On second listen, the record as a whole is well put together, structurally. As I can't read minds, I've no idea if the song order was intentional or just a happy accident. I'm inclined to think the former, however. The overall feel somewhat mirrors that of the individual songs themselves. Through the album, there is a general movement towards slower tempos and heavier riffing, while vocally there is more and more clean singing as the album progresses. I would add, that in my own subjective opinion, the music gets better and better with every song. I expect that upon further listens I'll notice more subtleties as well.

The sound itself is very good, which is always somewhat surprising for an underground band, and the entire mix sounds massive, especially the guitars, but it is also very well balanced for a metal album. Nice work there.

As for criticisms... well, my main issue with this record is, and given my earlier comments, this will not come as a surprise... the songs could be longer. "Time Drift of Seasons" especially I think is just too short. Admittedly, even in doom, it is better to leave the listener/audience wanting more than to wear out your welcome, and perhaps Bog Oak wanted to make sure the songs were tight with no unnecessary material, but I feel that as strong as the work on this record is, they could expand things a bit in future compositions without much risk of getting repetitive. This is especially the case because the slower parts are, in my opinion, the most powerful parts of the record. I like that Bog Oak vary their tempos quite a bit, though. Contrast keeps things interesting. Though, again, I would point out that while this is a criticism, it may be very much due to my own biases when it comes to this style, because as mentioned, I tend to listen most to longer, more drawn out, slower stuff. And this criticism is relatively minor. All of the music on this record is good, I just wish there were more of each song.

An additional, albeit minor positive, is the cover art. I love it. Very nicely done. Clearly this band pays attention to the little details. On a 1-10 scale, I would give ‘A Treatise On Resurrection And The Afterlife’ about... a strong 7, I'm thinking. If you like Black Cobra, Stoneburner, Dark Castle, Ludicra, and Graves at Sea, you should definitely check out Bog Oak. I'm looking forward to hearing them play live with Graves at Sea, soon, and I'll be very interested to hear future releases by them.

Words by: Dan Brownson

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