Oak Pantheon – From a Whisper

Hailing from the Pacific Northwest, Oak Pantheon…actually Minnesota. That’s right, Minneapolis in fact. But by the time you finish this review and check out our their debut album, From a Whisper, you will swear to me, Oak Pantheon clearly derides from the Pacific Northwest. The two creative masterminds behind this project, Tanner Swenson and Sami Sati, play black metal tinged folk with post-rock sensibilities and clearly worship Agalloch. From a Whisper is basically a Minnesotan Mantle, which is a good thing if you ask me. The main difference with Oak Pantheon is that they lean more on the folk and post side, rather than the black metal one. They invoke all the beauty and mystery you typically find in traditional folk music and have created something that is truly epic.

The album’s opener, “Descend into Winter” immediately showcases Swenson and Sati’s ability to craft very catchy riffs, which is a prerequisite for any solid post-metal release. The riffs really do immerses you into Oak Pantheon’s soundscape, and by the time they start singing “Here comes the snow…,” winter has indeed begun. Soon after, you hear some wonderfully executed black metal vocals that catapult you to the song’s apex where in post-like fashion, it unravels slowly until our journey ends. “It” is much more sinister in construction; whispering growls are accompanied by some menacing drum work. The riffs here are just infectious and I could not stop bobbing my head back and forth throughout this over 8 minute tune.

My favorite track on this record is without doubt the three movement post-metal symphony that is “We Will Tear Down the Gods.” Its also our first real introduction to Oak Pantheon’s softer folk side. Acoustic guitar lays down a beautiful melody followed by a few whispers before the main chorus just takes complete control. Repeat after me, “And we will..We will tear down the Gods, we will…” I spent half the day repeating this phrase over and over again after finishing this song. You will too. After 5 minutes in, the first movement abruptly ends and a whispering monologue takes over that comprises all of the second movement. The sound of running water bridges you to the third and final phase which devolves into some catchy post-rock guitar work. The next bit of folklore, “Aspen,” contains an outstanding breakdown just around 4:30 that demonstrates Swenson and Sati’s fine technical musicianship.

“The Ground Beneath You” acts as a mid-album acoustic interlude with guitars providing both melody and atmosphere. “Roots of Man” follows the same formula as the prior tracks with folk and metal fading into one another, playing the same theme over and over again. The title track happens to also be the longest, clocking in a tad over 10 minutes. It features probably the album’s most brilliant atmospheric guitar work during the song’s climax. Do not miss. From a Whisper ends with “An Altar of Limbs” which reverts back to some melodic acoustic guitar that I swear sounds a bit like Led Zeppelin. A solid end to a statement debut.

The album was mixed by Sean Golyer and mastered by Justin Weis at Trakworx. The good news: The mix is quite good. Guitars are clearly in charge whether they are acoustic or electric and that makes perfect sense, since From a Whisper’s main draw is the dueling axe work of Swenson and Sati. Vocals are also a highlight as they are very clear and polished no matter if they are black, folk, or whispers. Finally, despite the brickwall master, bass guitars do make an appearance for most of the album which is a welcomed surprise. Now the bad news: Given an album that contains a lot of acoustic guitar work and folk singing, can someone explain to me why dynamics are so friggin’ low? More depressing, why is there any form of clipping on any of these tracks? The clips are not a sea of red, but there are quite a number of them. But given the heavy folk roots, a higher dynamic range would have made this album sound glorious instead of boilerplate!

From a Whisper is an outrageously enjoyable debut. Although clearly heavily influenced by the “Cascadians” of the Pacific Northwest, their execution is sublime. If you are an Agalloch fan, its hard not to fall in love with this release. Oak Pantheon is a band to be watched and I can’t wait to hear their follow-up. Check them out now.