|Musical Style: Heavy Metal||Produced By:|
|Record Label: DiveBomb||Country Of Origin: USA|
|Year Released: 2010||Artist Website:|
|Tracks: 17||Rating: No Quote|
|Running Time: 76:48|
Re-issue mania has been all the rage as of late, particularly as it relates to the Christian metal scene. Classics of the past to come out in recent years include the back catalogs of Eternal Ryte - a Roxx Productions two CD set from 2007 featured the groups demo material, 1990 full length debut World Requiem and several live tracks – and XINR, a little known but talented mid-eighties Portland, Oregon based band that in 2008 had a compilation of its demos re-issues by Stormspell Records. Legacy, a melodic metal act from the eighties that came oh so close to getting signed, found the 14 songs it demoed re-issued by Eonian Records in the spring of 2010. Other groups that have recently had their classic material again see the light of day include Daniel Band (On Rock), Stryken (First Strike), Final Axe (Beyond Hell’s Gate) and Titanic (Maiden Voyage and Screaming In Silence).
The latest band to get in on the “re-issue craze” is North Carolina based Oracle. Oracle formed in 1990, the same year it put out its first demo, a four song effort that Heaven’s Metal compared to Iron Maiden and Watchtower and described as “(featuring) excellent musicianship and very cool time changes”.1 Selah, the group’s 7 song EP from 1992 received an every bit as laudable Heaven’s Metal review in being labeled “outstanding” and showcasing “production (that) is excellent”. The reviewer even went so far as to suggest that “If I were a record company executive looking for a band to sign, this band would be it”.2 Oracle closed out its career with a hard to find two song demo from 1993.
Selah remained out of print for close to a decade until it was re-issued by M8 Records in 2001 as part of a 2-for-1 release that also included Emerald’s 1987 EP Armed For Battle. Selah was re-issued again the first half of 2010, this time by DiveBomb Records as part of a seventeen song compilation – also featuring both of the group’s demos along with an alternate version of the first demo from 1990 - entitled Desolate Kings: The Oracle Anthology.
Musically, Oracle can best be described as power metal with the occasional thrash and doom metal overtone. You will find your share of technical time changes hinting at the progressive as well. Fans of Metal Church, Barren Cross and Sanctuary will find a lot to like here as will those into (previously referenced) Iron Maiden and Watchtower. The high pitched vocal flavorings of Shawn Pelata should also attract devotees of Recon, Sacred Warrior and Jacobs Dream.
Pelata proves a particularly talented front man presenting with a varied style. Yes, he can cut loose in high end fashion with some well times falsettos but can also sing in a lower register in adding an element of mid-ranged grit to his delivery. While I hesitate to invite a direct comparison, imagine Lance King intentionally singing in a lower register.
Supporting Pelata is a very able guitarist in Robert Kearns. Kearns is responsible for the groups predominant rhythm guitar sound (particularly on the Selah material), laying down riffs that vary from a near speed metal pace to a driving and slugging doom-ish romp. Selah also finds him at his best soloing wise, as he decorates the project with complementary lightning-like leads while leading the way through the numerous lengthy instrumental excursions that abound.
This review is going to predominantly focus on the Selah material, which finds Oracle at the top of its game. Selah consists of six full length tracks and one short instrumental, with all standing out. If Oracle had come up with 3 or 4 more songs (of the same quality) and turned things into a full length release it would easily rate in the 90% to 95% range. Yes, the group’s songwriting skills are that good.
From a production standpoint, the Heaven’s Metal review hit the nail on the head in that the sound quality here is top notch for an independent release. The re-mastering improves upon things even further. If anything, the Divebomb Records re-issue literally blows the M8 version out of the water; the difference is night and day. As a matter of fact, if you have an M8 copy in your possession then my best advise would be to ignore it (do not get rid of it because you still want to keep it for the cool Emerald tracks).
At this point I feel it is best to take an in depth look at the Selah material, which will be followed by an analysis of the two demos.
Oracle puts its best foot forward on “Passage Denied”, a technically driven power metal slab characterized by its low end decisiveness and front to back unremitting momentum. Adding to the blatant scene are Pelata’s periodic high end screams and the non-stop double bass work of talented drummer Jay Denny. Am I out of line to suggest a faint hint of Theater Of War era Jacobs Dream if reflected in the process? “Passage Denied” details how we cannot cover up the sinful nature:
Don’t look at me
There’s too much to see
I can’t cover my sin
Don’t look at me
There’s too much to see
I can’t cover my sin -
Can’t hide it within
Crying out for the mercy of the One you refuse to serve
Then returning to your vomit
Like dogs - will you ever learn
“Harlot’s Destiny” presents with its variances in tempo. The song immediately kicks in at full force only to abruptly stop dead in its tracks. Picking back up in pace, it rollicks forward in dogged fashion prior to tapering to a doom-like passage at the halfway point. An extended instrumental romp proceeds to carry things to their close. The End Times is the subject at hand:
Dreadful days are coming
Her idols punished and killed
Babylon’s mighty strongholds
Will be consumed in my Holy fire
The gruesome whore must die
Due to the slain of Israel
As dead men of the Earth
Have suffered due to her
The doom influenced emphasis continues on “Witches & Warlocks”. The song opens its first minute sluggishly but makes a sudden tempo change as initiative increases exponentially. Fixed impetus continues to urge things ahead until the acquisition of a ruinous chorus – very haunting and swarthy - and instrumental proclivities that follow. This one is aptly entitled:
Crystal balls and robes of black
Power thirst your driven mad
Your blood - your name - the Book of Death
Seal your fate - sell yourself
Witches & warlocks - Practicing blood stained arts
Witches & warlocks - Deceived they play their part
Crystal rocks and robes of white
White witch of the new age kind
Cleaner package - same inside
Different fabric - same design
“The Purging Fire” starts to a bass guitar solo but proves a thrash heavy monster its remaining distance. An aggressive aura prevails as chopping guitar riffs and a heavy hitting rhythm section join with nothing less than a caustically driven chorus. This one would fit right in on the first couple of Deliverance albums. “The Purging Fire” focuses on the refinement that comes as a result of the trials of life:
Purge me with fire
Purify my soul
Bring me up higher
And make me whole (and take control)
Analyze – then crucify any member you please
Lest I hold on to this life of vanity
Bittersweet it can be
The change that You bring
Bitter - the burning away
Sweet - the gold that remains
“Desolate Kings”, a shorter piece at just three minutes, heads in a more up-tempo melodic metal direction. I might actually describe it as the least technical of the Selah tracks with its straightforward leanings and lack of changes in time and tempo (observation and not critique in both cases). Still, it is quite good with a notable chorus hook and faith based lyrics:
In our dreams there is no fear
To our Fathers we are compelled
To us His love is extended
Yet He holds the keys to Death and Hell
Jesus the finisher of our faith
We go by what the spirit says
He shows us that He really cares,
His heart holds no hatred there
“Legion” is a musical depiction of the healing of the demon possessed man (from Luke 8: 26-38). Coming in at just under seven minutes, the song proves progressive in form but dramatic in capacity: Progressive from the standpoint of different styles presented, ranging from jazzy bass lines and acoustic interludes, doom based riffs and power metal soloing. Dramatic in terms of the dialogue between Christ, the demons and previously possessed man:
What is the name by which you are called?
We are called Legion - We are a multitude
Please Son of God - No
It’s not our time to go
Not into Abyss - But into the Swine
We cry Lord
I now see with my own eyes
Son of God - I worship you
From this day to my demise
I will follow you
“Rebecca” closes out Selah in the form of a short acoustic based instrumental.
Yes, the Oracle 1990 demo material has some rough edges production wise but is still good to hear. You get early versions of “Passage Denied” (under the original title “Look Away”) and “Desolate Kings” and two songs unique to the demo, “Willful Death” and “The Spirit Of Egypt”. “Willful Death” is a melodic piece with a catchy chorus (it reminds me somewhat of “The Purging Fire”) while “The Spirit Of Egypt” brings a classic power metal sound showcasing an energetic tempo and over the top riffing. Both would fit in quite well with the Selah material.
As for the “alternate” versions of the four demo tracks, it is difficult to distinguish the two with repeated listen but I might describe them as having a bit more reverb added to the mix.
As for the two songs from the 1993 demo, “Wolves Of The Cloth” and “Apathy’s Slumber”, we might as well be talking about a completely different band in that not only does Oracle feature a new vocalist, Robert Kearns takes on vocal duties, but a new musical direction as well: straightforward hard rock with a big touch of groove. To say that Kearns’ vocal style is an acquire taste would be an understatement. He brings a gruff and harsh presence that reminds me a bit of Ron Poggione (former Testify) or Billy Hagan Blax (Spittin Jonah).
Musically, both are solid heavy duty rockers bringing pronounced rhythm guitar flavorings and a pulsating low end. “Wolves Of The Cloth” is the heavier of the two while “Apathy’s Slumber” highlights the more notable (but very subtle) melody. I would have liked to hear a full length album in this direction.
Review by Andrew Rockwell
Track Listing (Selah): “Passage Denied” (5:39), “Harlots Destiny” (4:25), “Witches & Warlocks” (6:03), “The Purging Fire” (3:47), “Desolate Kings” (3:14), “Legion” (6:48), “Rebecca” (1:37)
Track Listing (Demo – 1990): “Look Away” (5:42), “Willful Death” (4:00), “Desolate Kings” (3:22), “The Spirit Of Egypt” (5:04)
Track Listing (Demo – 1993): “Wolves Of The Cloth” (5:25), “Apathy’s Slumber” (3:39)
Track Listing (Demo – 1990 – Alternate Version): “Look Away” (5:37), “Willful Death” (3:58), “Desolate Kings” (3:20), “The Spirit Of Egypt” (5:00)
Shawn Pelata – Lead Vocals
Robert Kearns – Guitars & Lead Vocals
Jimmy Weaver – Guitars
Thomas Marshall – Bass
Jay Denny - Drums
1. Stephen Wagers, “Oracle review”, Heaven’s Metal 32 (1991): 42.
2. Jeff Lott, “Oracle review”, Heaven’s Metal 40 (1993): 40.