Unless you’ve been living under a rock until recently (in which case, hello there!) you would have heard about Morgengrau’s sophmore release, Blood Oracle, as it has been making subtle but noticeable waves as of late.
Morgengrau is a Texas band that plays an interesting blend of death and black metal. This comes in the form of downtuned death riffs coupled with spontaneous bouts of black metal passages, skank beats and double-bass assaults shifting into and out of blast beats. All this is connected together with almost doom-like, slower passages. This is held up by competent drums and angry, forked-tongue bass and form the basis for the deep, guttural bellows of Erika Morgengrau. So what lays under the tentative title of Blood Oracle? Let’s see.
Now, first thing’s first: there is a dichotomy at the heart of this album. It is based on Morgengrau delivering the tried-and-true (and therefore cliché) and shake things up routinely in songs. The cuts offered here are far from static far as pacing goes, in fact, songs can start out slow (Poised at the Precipice of Doom) or fast (Forced Exodus) before gradually shifting in the opposite direction. This keeps things interesting, mainly because the band almost never caters to your expectations. The titular opening track, Blood Oracle is a great example of this: starting out mild and mid-paced, the song picks up just when it is starting to get a bit boring and carries it to new heights. This is well and good, but the balance is a bit off and while speeding up feels refreshing, slowing down often doesn’t.
A strength of Blood Oracle is that the music offered is decidedly atmospheric. A prime example of this is Wolves of Thirteen, with its somewhat ritualistic aura and the inclusion of chants and whispers to the well-placed guitars. The ease with which songs manage to invoke dark and foreboding moods without resorting to reverb-heavy production is quite an achievement – even better that the atmospheric component is pervasive enough to feel cohesive. Kudos.
Blood Oracle is far from perfect, in fact, there are a few flaws that takes a little more polish. Chief among them being that songs often have passages that do not really register all that much. While it is difficult to point at exactly what these parts lack, but something just feels a bit hollow. Other times, these moments come off as a bit dissonant, like the half-solo of Evocation of the Wheel or most of the latter half of Progression and when they fail to develop into something, the album drags. There is a definite problem there, as songwriting is something the album manages to somewhat prevail despite, not because of.
Now, what runs the entire enterprise to the ground is the production. The whole thing sounds muffled, buried and just underproduced. Blood Oracle has a very bass-heavy sound, which wouldn’t be such a problem if that didn’t get in the way of everything else: the guitars are too quiet, the drums, while felt, do not make the impact that they should and the vocals, while adequately mixed in, don’t really shred through it. The end result is incredibly, horribly subdued and struggles to make any sort of impact. Furthermore, this isn’t even consistent: the guitars, for instance, come through a bit more clearly at times (the intro of Invert the Maker, for example) so you never know when the production will allow you to enjoy Morgengrau’s cuts more.
To the band’s credit, however, there are many good moments to be found here, bad production or no, so if you wanna hear what these Texans have to offer, go for it. Fans of death or black should also give it a go. For those just starting out, I’d recommend you look elsewhere.
E. Morgengrau – guitars, vocals
N. Norris – Guitars
J. Holmes – bass
K. Elrod – drums (Session)
01. Blood Oracle
02. Wolves of Thirteen
04. Poised at the Precipice of Doom
05. Forced Exodus
06. Invert the Marker
07. Incipit Bellum
08. Evocation of the Wheel