Review: Burial Oath – Beyond the Vale of Shadowlands

Do you yearn for the days when black metal was still a simple endeavor? A time when its taxonomic boundary was both well defined and clearly understood; a time when grown men could don corpse paint with pride; a time when black metal was, well, exactly that – no more, no less. Maybe I’m just a closet luddite. But the truth is more often than not, I just want to listen to Plain Old Black Metal™ without any pretentiousness or pretense that seems to be the metal du jour these days. If you know of what I speak, then say hello to my little friend, Burial Oath‘s Beyond the Vale of Shadowlands.

Shadowlands triumph is in its simplicity; it’s not trying to push any boundaries or raise any eyebrows. These three Ohioan miscreants play fairly prototypical ’90s black metal embodied in bands such as Mayhem, Burzum, and early Darkthrone. But they pull it off with such aplomb, it’s hard not to admire these eight evil tracks contained within.

But if you came for the free corpse paint, then you undoubtedly stayed for the riffs as Shadowlands is just chock full of them. Tracks like “A Graven Wintertale” and particularly its followup, “Coffin Nails,” both come roaring out the gate with a barrage of addictive neck-snapping riffs that stick on contact. And though almost every track on this record is essentially riff driven, they always include just the right level of blast and buzz to prevent themselves from falling off Satan’s wagon. For instance, though the track “Transcendent Void” is essentially your run of the mill chug rest, the track also features numerous barrages of chainsaw laden cacophony that should satisfy even the most ardent of black metal fiends. Same goes for the finale, “Womb of the Cosmic Bane,” with a sinister sounding introductory melody a la “Freezing Moon,” before unloading on your eardrums about a minute in. Put simply, Shadowlands does an impeccable job of striking the right balance between raw, aggressive blackened fury and catchy hooks and melodies that will keep you coming back for more.

I would be bereft to not briefly mention Sean Deth’s vocals, which are a highlight in their own right. Make no mistake about it, Mr. Deth could easily be Attila’s stand in on the next Mayhem record. He has that same guttural rasp and evil delivery, with just enough intonation to give you a sense of his nefarious intents without having to spill the beans entirely. I particularly appreciated his obligatory screams and chants in various places too, imbuing the whole record with a sense of the occult.

If there is one complaint to be had is that Shadowlands is a bit short, particularly for a debut. The album clocks in at little under thirty minutes and most songs hover around the four minute mark. I think two more tracks of the same ilk would have produced a more complete picture. But as most of you know, “less is more” these days so c’est la vie.

On the production front, Shadowlands sounds solid despite being bricked. Bass is particularly tasty and Dominic’s guitars are just oozing with fuzz. The mix also does a good job to let Deth’s vocals shine through as they never get overpowered by the raucous underneath them. It just goes to show you don’t have to follow the Burzum school of production to produce a high quality underground black metal release. There is a limited edition vinyl and even if it shares the same master, I think the translation to wax should sound tight.

Shadowlands is quite simply exquisite. Think of it as Cleveland’s very own De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas. If you want a no nonsense, no BS black metal release, I can think of no better record to come out this year. Horns up gentlemen. Horns up.

Dynamic Range