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Sunday, September 30, 2018
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Because I am quite thrilled by Sombre Présage, I heard about Occultum Productions, a label hailing from Lyon, a city in the South-East of France. And the first time when I was delving deep into their catalogue, I was so impressed. This label, unfortunately underestimated (but I will change that, haha!), houses several highly qualitative bands and projects – it would be stupid to list up some of them, for (almost) all of them a worth being mentioned. But do check out Occultum Productions’ Bandcamp page, for example, and start drooling…

Anyway, their latest release is Nebula, a six-tracker by Oak, which is a mysterious entity from the French city of Reims. It is an extremely productive project, this Oak, for they recorded and self-released five albums in less than three years. And FYI: Occultum Productions has recently compiled this material in a box (a wooden box with t-shirt included), so actually Nebula is not the most recent release from the label (which I stated in the first phrase of this paragraph). Beware: this one is heavily limited.

Back to the essence… Nebula was initially released via the contemporary digital sources some months ago by the project itself, and now the French label offers us a physical version, being one on compact disc (500 copies, if I’m not mistaken) and on tape (limited to 100 copies). And a first thing that strikes me is the cover artwork: a fragment from a painting by Jheronimus ‘Hieronymus’ Bosch, a Dutch painter who died about 500 years ago. It’s an excerpt from Ascent Of The Blessed, one of the panels of the polyptych Visions Of The Hereafter, created in the early 16th century. I will not go any deeper into the matter, for this isn’t an art-forum, but since I do like this painter’s eccentric style…

Oak too bring something quite eccentric, in a way.  It would be incomplete, even perfunctory, to call this stuff ‘Black Metal’, for this is much more than just ‘Black Metal’. As from the start, it shows… The opening track (also the title song) starts with folksy acoustic guitars and a warm, sweet humming female voice. After about one minute, some additional sounds join. And then: explosion! Fast riffs, thunderous drum patterns and hysterical screams are like the essence of this aural experience. The whole track, and the very same goes for all others, permanently changes, evolves, drops back, and continues once again, mesmerizing, almost ambient parts (cf. the end of the title track), fierce outbursts, epic melodic excerpts, melancholic chapters and harsh pieces smoothly interact, quite organically. It needs some time, and persuasion, perseverance, valiancy, endurance to comprehend the whole journey, so it will surely take several listens to get through the surface. But it is worth it, because once you are totally ‘into’ the material, you will not complain…

It sounds oppressing and dejected, and at the same time morbid, angry and vengeful, with a melancholic touch of intrinsic hatred. It is like a tormented soul reflecting on one’s life, education, religion, philosophy and spirituality, rejection, disgust and antipathy included. Through these six lengthy compositions (in between five and eleven minutes), the author(s) / creator(s) behind Oak have painted a desolate landscape, veiled in sulphur clouds, like an ancient graveyard where lost spirits dwell, like Purgatory opening its gates to the innocent never to return. In a poetic way, I admit, this whole sonic adventure reveals so many hidden levels of the Inner Eye, and it isn’t always that beautiful, that which appears. Yet that exactly is what makes all this so attractive!

The sound quality may not be that optimum. There is nothing wrong with the mix, for the interplay in between the different instruments is clearly audible. But to my (important) opinion (for what it is worth – but hey, I am the reviewer), the production could have been little more ‘full’. The strength of the electric (rhythm) guitars does not always come into its own, unfortunately, and there is some sort of noisy mist on the background. It has something à la the mighty Grieghallen, yet less convincing. But then again, this isn’t but a minor detail, for the overall sound quality is not that bad either. As said, the mix is satisfying, for the bass lines too are equally part of the whole.

Despite a specific progressive approach, Oak do not play Progressive Black Metal. They are far away from modernism whatsoever. It is the somewhat experimental approach that gives that distinctive angle to this project’s sound.

PS: a review on the debut album of My Deathbed, also released via Occultum Productions, will be published soon…