I suspect that there are no UK metal bands who I want to like more than Old Corpse Road. They seem to want to play live at the drop of a hat and that kind of work ethic can only be admired. Add in their proud obsession with the uniquely rich folklore of the British Isles which is unbelievably and unforgivably either ignored or only hesitantly dipped into by others and you have a band I naturally gravitate towards.
When I was introduced to them via their split with The Meads Of Asphodel there was however one nagging problem. The C word. Their tendency then to lean very heavily towards what I think of as the ‘yip yip blast’ vocal and guitar sound of Cradle Of Filth, not helped at all by the classical organ sounds of the keyboards. The songs were potentially so good but mired in the odd self imposed style that didn’t quite fit right to evoke the subject matter. And this is from a CoF fan, by the way
So after much road work, we get to their eagerly awaited debut. Nice title, lovely packaging and the extended spoken intro ‘Tis Witching Hour’ is excellent, evocative and a fine scene setter. But then we launch into ‘The Cauld Lad Of Hylton’ we are straight into the old style of yip yip blast again. The worst thing is it sounds good for what it is! The production is actually pretty darned superb here, picking out the sounds without pulling apart the aggression, the band sound as though they are on fire but only as we reach the last third of the song does it grab me: Here they shift into a truly wonderful, spectral sound of (non-classical) keyboards, mournful guitars and varied vocals. Frankly it is genuinely a stunning and original finale, the kind that gets you all welled up. It sounds just like the band I had been hoping for.
‘Hag Of The Mist’ almost does the same trick. Apart from a bit more variation in the vocals up front, we segue into classic CoF style in the shift from high pitch vocals and blast to slower power and low growls, interspersed by trilling organ sounds. It is still beautifully played and far less messy than most recent Filthy outpourings but it is still familiar ground. And then we slide into some haunting keyboards, half spoken words with excellent black metal vocals backing them up and a whirling, spiralling crescendo that is just unbelievably good. Really. Even though the song doesn’t sound fractured at all it’s almost like two personalities are at war here.
I’m confused. Mostly happy but confused.
The shorter instrumental ‘The Buried Moon’ is a simple but gorgeous piece that makes my heart swell and my gaze stare long across the green and gold land around me. Acoustic guitar, keyboards, that folk feel without resorting to lowest common denominator fiddle sound, and then even more exceptional we slide into a vocal only chant ‘The Wild Voice Came’. And when the black metal returns with ‘The Crier Of Claiffe’ there has been a subtle but oh-so-effective shift in the guitar phrasing so even when the blasting comes, it us undeniably, indisputably Old Corpse Road with whip in hand driving the storm. Crying, calling backing vocals and higher black vocals, deep, breathy death metal vocals mix with a little spoken narrative and more of a folk tinge to the melody than the badly suited neo-classical. Closed out by the short piece ‘The Secret Of The Rolling Waves’, this section is pure delight for me.
‘Isobel-Queen Of Scottish Witches’ is a pretty rampant affair once the narrative scene setting passes and once more highlights good use of mixed vocals and is a mist rolling over the heather tune to enjoy. I do find ‘Glassensikes At Witching Hour’ is a little long for it’s content but, still, not bad and we end with the sombre chants of ‘As Spectres We Haunt This Kingdom.
Putting off the inevitable, I must say that this has been a very difficult album to review. Easy to listen to, hard to review without feeling terminally guilty about CoF comparisons. However on the good side when Old Corpse Road ditch the organ sound and that vocal/blast style you will hear a totally different band and, even when they don’t they are still very listenable and well ahead of most black metal in the UK. So in the end maybe I’m being hyper critical because this is their first full length and there is time to grow further. I know, and this album shows, that they are so much more. When they relax and respond to the grim, haunted tales that inspire them and broaden their musical gaze they blossom into something remarkable and genuinely exceptional and the music fits the subject so much better too. Go and listen to that album midsection or the end of ‘The Cauld Lad Of Hylton’ and then tell me I’m wrong.
It is a good, solid base though and the production has done them proud and it is enjoyable above all else with nary a bad song on it. So recommended with that minor reservation then. I expect greater things to come though, guys. You certainly have it in you and, I suspect, a lot to say.