New to the pagan/Viking-inspired scene but certainly no greenhorns to metal, Portland, Oregon’s Oakhelm features two guitarists and a drummer from black/death metal troupe, Fall of the Bastards, and one-time Assück (Anticapital), current Wormwood champ, Pete Jay yoking the vocal/bass responsibility – a damned impressive pedigree for a fledgling Viking metal act.
One peek at the cover for Betwixt and Between should be a pretty good indication as to whether or not you should be squirreling away doubloons to procure this thing. Four of the six tunes (clocking in at 8-minutes or more each) romp with a focus on violent, bone-splintering metal. “Of Wood and Blood”, “As the Murder Flies”, “These Boundaries Crossed” and “Immram” all spend equal measure flailing in swift black metal madness (especially the snappy, rapid-fire drum work) and husky, dirty death metal. But we also hear some occasional melodic guitar breakouts (sadly a bit smothered due to the production) that do a grat job of adding an epic flare to the overall sound.
Each of the four heavy-hitter tunes also manage to work in some savvy acoustical play, with no shortage of other model Viking flare thrown in for good measure: crow-cries, swirling storms, waves lapping, et al. To be truthful, the longer tunes would stand even stronger if they’d drift into quieter moments more often, as opposed to only their beginnings and ends. This isn’t because the brutality is ever boring, but simply because the band is so damned solid with the acoustic measures. The two shorter tunes, “Skal Shanty” and “Maybon Shore”, are perfect examples of this, and stand as welcome respite between the heft of Betwixt and Between’s metalness.
If there’s anything listeners will have to adjust to on this fine debut, it’ll be Jay’s slightly jarring vocals. Nestled somewhere between a death-bellow and blackened rasp, his gruff voice sounds almost as if it would fit alongside a lost E.N.T. crust/grind record, which admittedly looks pretty strange on paper, considering the Viking blueprint. However, they work quite well once you get used to ‘em a bit, especially when tempered by the heeps of (very) low, warrior choir-styled “Oooh-ohs” and full-on clean sung vocals.
Notch another point in the win column for the burgeoning Portland scene, Oakhelm’s Betwixt and Between is certainly worthy of any fan of Viking metal’s attention. This is a meaty, blood-boiler of a record that’ll fill you with the sort of rage necessary to swing a hammer the size of a suburban mailbox. Certainly recommended, and definitely one of the year’s more promising debuts. Pick it up, throw it on, and send your foes packing to Valhöll.