Due to….stuff… for the first time you will, on reading this review, be able to rush out and immediately buy this album as it is out. And you will, won’t you? Why? Well…
Reworked logo and on their new label Trollzorn this time we find the very idiosyncratic, very British folkloric black metal band Old Corpse Road once more haunting the highways, byeways, and forgotten coastlines of our island lore and summoning the mists to crowd in around our campfire. It has been kind of heartening to see their development over the years, since the first time I saw them on stage. I initially warmed to their love of the folklore around us all, and over the years they have steadily repaid that optimism with some great shows and real development.
Third album time then and our unearthly bards are looking to the seas for inspiration. It opens with the title track, a beautiful and haunting instrumental – no not an intro as one weird review I read claimed; a full-bodied instrumental. It sounds strange to say, but its spine-tingling melody and the wave-like sway of its near four minute length is one of their most deft and atmospheric songs ever. A perfect and nuanced welcome in by the storyteller at the heart of the band.
‘Harbingers Of Death (Voices In The Tempest)’ sounds exactly as its title should; storm ridden turbulence. A visit to Scottish lore, raisers of storms and ruiners of unwary vessels. There’s that little touch of early Emperor here, but a dark age style musical theme as the riffs crack the spine of the ship and dash it against the rocks. ‘Black Ship’ sails in close by. An acoustic intro that has a folk meets the medieval lilt. A tale of wreckers and retribution with a dark, dark feel. Feral ‘Cradle-esque’ vocals snap and bite, ebbing and flowing with darker deeper tones and some glorious clean vocals calling out over the seas, and relentless guitar melody threading through. The keyboards conjure that medieval style once more, Dark Age Of Reason Arcana meets Period One Mortiis, a sombre placid ending as the waves close over the victims. Quite wonderful.
They then go in search of St Elmo’s Fire, ‘Sea Fire’ via Coleridge bringing a simply marvellous, slow and brooding song. Again, the backing vocals here are excellent, adding a chanting to the deep rumbling vocals and the tripping of piano noted and string sounds glowing in the rainstorm. It is so evocative, and OCR at their pinnacle for me. So much going on but the while tied together and accessible too. ‘As Waves Devour Their Carcasses’ bring a tale of sacrifice to the goddess of the seas, a quiet and subtle number that just shows how far this band have travelled. ‘Demons Of The Farne’ in contrast is an absolute beast, a ravenous attack that rips and bites with all the black metal ferocity you could wish for and with a hook that you never forget.
And then…then we get the epic ‘The Ghosts Of The Ruinous Dunstanburgh Castle’ which appears to be based entirely on Sir Guy The Seeker by Matthew Gregory Lewis whom I confess I only know of via the notorious gothic novel The Monk. It’s every bit the gothic laudanum delirium tale you’d hope and expect for its sixteen odd minute length. A twisting, writhing epic that genuinely belies its length with some great pace changing and effortless melodic refrains.
The close with ‘Waterlore’. A gentle siren song indeed, a calmness, a peace. A reminder that for all the storms and raging, that water is also a thing of cool relief and gentle lifegiving.
It’s a wonderful, expansive and mature album wrapped in a beautiful painting as well. An album that I just hope brings the band the respect that they are surely due. They haunt out kingdom, gathering souls as they go, and offer the chance to learn a little more of the whispers in our fog and rain drenched shores. If you are new to them this is also a perfect joining point, a chance to see them where the music is the equal of their vision.
Ah it’s a dark, magical and haunted land, the British Isles, and Old Corpse Road are the perfect celebrants.