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, From a Whisper, you will swear to me Oak Pantheon clearly should be from the Pacific Northwest. The two creative masterminds behind this project, Tanner Swenson and Sami Sati, play black metal tinged folk a la Agalloch with the main difference being that they lean more heavily on the folk and post side than the black metal one. Think of their debut as basically a Minnesotan Mantle. Count me in.

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. “It” on the other hand is much more sinister in construction, with whispering growls coupled by some menacing drum work that give it a dark and brooding atmosphere. The introductory melody here is also just as infectious, and I could not stop bobbing my head back and forth throughout this over eight minute ditty.

None of the first two however prepare you for the three movement post-metal symphony and stunner that is “We Will Tear Down the Gods.” It’s also our first real introduction to Oak Pantheon’s softer folk side, with acoustic guitar laying down a beautiful melody that segue into a few whispers before the main chorus takes hold. 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 and trust me, you will too. After five 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 four minutes in 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 ten minutes and features probably the album’s most brilliant atmospheric guitar work during its 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.

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? 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, and although clearly heavily influenced by the cascadians of the Pacific Northwest, their execution is near perfect. If you are an Agalloch fan, this release is simply too hard not to fall in love with. Oak Pantheon are a band to be watched and I can’t wait to hear their follow-up. Check them out now.

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