By Kevin Stewart-Panko
During a visit to the palatial office towers of Baltimore’s A389 Records, Dom, the label’s president and CEO (Chief Everything Officer), handed me a copy of this slab of vinyl with the rhyming caveat that “Oak is no joke” coming off his pursed lips. I’m not doubting the seriousness of this molasses-tempoed, doom quartet. Not at all, I’m just wondering how, when and why bands influenced by the likes of Burning Witch, Graves At Sea and (in my humble opinion, the best of the bunch) Thorr’s Hammer have became as popular as they recently have. If you turn you mind back to the late 90s, Burning Witch formed in part because the greater public didn’t give a flying fuck about Thorr’s Hammer and usually experience their share of shoulder-shrugging apathy from the kids. Graves At Sea fared a bit better, but they broke up a couple years ago and won’t likely be really popular for another four or five years.
But I’m not here to pick apart the mystery of why three-beat-per-minute doom is suddenly cool amongst the kids – although, heed this warning: once the hipsters tire of black metal, look the fuck out! Nah, I’m here to talk about Oak’s debut 12” which rumbles and crumbles like Paul Bunyon piloting a city-sized backhoe. Vocalist Jo Gonzalez mixes and mashes his vocal chords to the tune of skidding tires and large men falling down jagged canyons while the humid oppression of the guitar, bass and drums acts like the soundtrack to slow suffocation and violent digestion. They do squeeze a couple of up-tempo surprises (one track features an extended blast beat section!) and minimize the lingering walls of feedback amongst the ten-plus minute long songs. This keeps Oak from falling into the trap of being too languid and ultimately dull and sleepy-eyes. Those who like their guitars with tons of sustain, bass deep enough to get you sphincter-pinching and barren kick-snare patters, should salivate quite nicely over this while praying that this doesn’t become a gateway band for the hipsters.