Released: 2015, eOne Music
Reviewer: Peter Atkinson
Dark Sermon may hail from Tampa, Fla., but they don’t sound one bit like what we’ve come to expect from the one-time death metal center of the universe. The band’s 2013 full-length debut, In Tongues, was a mish-mash of technical death metal intricacy, deathcore brutality and black metal atmosphere far removed from the legacy of Death, Obituary or Morbid Angel.
The Oracle finds the quintet retooling that formula to take it even farther afield by adding a pronounced industrial/doom element that at once makes their sound more ominous but also more ponderous. Where In Tongues reveled in intensity and was an undeniably punishing outing, The Oracle relies far less on full-bore tech-death/black metal velocity and more on creaking, clangorous drone. And there is enough elephantine plod here to take the steam right out of the album.
Though The Oracle opens on a decidedly black metally note with the bracing shimmer of “Ode of the Black Widow” and “In Each Hand, A Talisman of Sacred Stone,” the droning – which feels almost like breakdowns being played at half-speed given its density and weight - announces itself briefly on “Black Widow” then commands the back half of “Sacred Stone.”
“Children of Gaia” keeps the tempo down throughout and though it is a bit more ethereal, it is no less smothering as it lurches along under a cascade of guitar and Johnny Crowder’s commanding roar. He’s got one of the biggest, most ferocious voices in metal – a deep Chuck Billy/Nergal-like hybrid that can strip the paint off the wall and loosen your bowels at the same time – and is able to use that to startling effect on the shuddering “Rat King” with its “mother/father why have you forsaken me” lament.
“The Myth of Sanity” and “The Eyeless Needle” repeat “Sacred Stone’s” jog-and-slog dynamic, with “Needle” boasting more of an epic feel with its occasional majestic sweeps of guitar, whereas “Starve” actually builds a bit of a groove over its mid-tempo pace and is probably the most straight up metal song here.
“Both in Equal Parts” is the most Spartan, least oppressive track on the album with its simple riff repeated against a wash of acoustic guitar over a smattering of hushed vocals, making for a rather marked contrast to histrionics found elsewhere. And it serves as a bridge to “The Wraith” and the fittingly titled “Gargantua” that see the album creep to a close.
Along with its deliberate, sometimes maddening, meandering pace, The Oracle is also largely void of anything in the way of hooks or standard verse-and-chorus song structure, which was apparently Dark Sermon’s intent going in. All this gives the album an expansive, yet aimless, free-form air that perhaps would have been more effective with even a modestly more accelerated delivery. Instead, The Oracle comes off as lethargic, as if the band used up too much energy on In Tongues and couldn’t muster much of a second wind for their second effort.