Album Review: Olkoth - At The Eye Of Chaos
Reviewed by Sam Jones
I’ve seen an awful lot advertised about Olkoth in the last few weeks. Signing onto Everlasting Spew Records following the release of their Single, Eidolon In The Flames, Olkoth have been plastered everywhere as a major release for the record label and, come May 26th, audiences worldwide will have their chance to see what they’re about. Formed in 2017 out of South Carolina, United States, Olkoth deem themselves as a black/death metal band yet it took time for the band to reach this point, releasing their first Demo in 2019, yet only following that up with the aforementioned Single. This album release, particularly through a major record label, is no doubt a huge achievement for Olkoth as they seek to unfurl themselves upon an unsuspecting public. As of late, Everlasting Spew Records have been climbing the ranks adorned by 20 Buck Spin, Profound Lore Records and many more so I was especially keen on checking out what Olkoth were all about.
To say that Olkoth don’t conduct themselves via half measures would be an understatement. The band’s soundscape is absolutely massive as they hurl bellowing vocals and a gigantic, twinned guitar-drumming performance your way, all the while choosing a production that binds all these elements together into a concise space where escape is out of the question. In many ways it is fortunate the album doesn’t run on for too long, otherwise audiences may become exasperated as to how devastating this album is on the senses. I appreciate how the record doesn’t slowly ease us into their onslaught, rather we are thrown headfirst into the mire as Olkoth undertake themselves not to hold anything back as we’re subjected to one volley after another. With that said, the band’s assault is amazing but, they still ensured the guitar and drumming work can still be picked up as individual pieces and enjoyed when the songwriting enables us to do so. The mix has resulted in a band performance that ebbs back and forth between a total, collective package and demonstrating how the individual instrumentation is crucial to the overall band performance.
Oh, it’s fast. It’s very fast. I imagine there are going to be numerous people, and bands for that matter, raising some eyebrows when they undertake this record to listen from start to finish. The aforementioned short runtime means the band don’t have the track durations to really experiment or work on anything more avant-garde, yet it’s arguable this approach to songwriting was always the ideal that Olkoth wanted to vie for. Throughout the record I never got the feeling that this style of songwriting was merely one avenue by which the band wished to express themselves and then bring in something softer for the sake of variety; what you hear at the start is what you’ll hear at the end and frankly, I’m all for it. The band don’t try to hide any hidden ambitions, it’s all left out and open and raw for us to experience. The songwriting is always moving from place to place so, even while the band’s speed is utterly unrelenting, the audience knows progression is always occurring.
I think half the reason this album feels so massive is due to the level of bass that’s going into the mix. Listening attentively we find that chord structures or key changes possess great weight, even when these instances are during regular points in a given track. More subtle licks and riffs that would otherwise have gone unrecognised in other bands feel heightened and pinpointed for our attention to fix on, precisely because of the band’s utilisation of bass effectively outlining where they want us to look sonically speaking. Therefore, the soundscape isn’t big for its own sake but directing us to where it thinks we ought to be. That’s even more impressive when you remember the band’s chaotic style of songwriting where very little is given a rest and neither are the audience. With little in the way of variety it’s great to note Olkoth still regulate your interest, crafting songwriting that makes your attention absolutely necessary because the band have gone out of their way to make this incessant annihilation consistently fascinating.
The vocals are far from anything you’ve encountered in death metal, yet I’d argue the delivery is precisely what this album needed for a vocal performance to stand out against the flurries of instrumentation. The gruff and bellowing form of vocals has become increasingly common to spot amongst the more extreme variants of death metal, and Olkoth aren’t anything different. However, owing to the band’s ruthless songwriting and the compact, clenched form of production quality they’ve opted for, the vocal delivery harnesses the levels of grit the record needed for such a vocal delivery to not feel completely overwhelmed by the instrumental elements. In addition, the vocals rarely sit on one level or plane for the entirety of a track; one moment they’re delivering the expected gruff attitude, next they’re steadily climbing to climax with a hoarse cry. It’s all the more noteworthy when we realise the vocals can go toe-to-toe with intensity and pacing as any riff or drum piece; that’s half the reason this album feels so fast, the vocal and instrumentation elements are racing with one another and so the audience is forever on this race track as the adrenaline of this record is always kicking in and rarely abating for any reason at all.
In conclusion, Olkoth’s blazing debut album is a huge undertaking that champions a massive soundscape all the while still enabling its audience to sit back somewhat and take in everything that’s in store for them. What may initially sound like your rudimentary extreme metal record that we’ve heard all before, Olkoth are subtle in their performance and how they’ve mixed this record together to enhance the opportunities people would have in taking the most away from their listening experience herein. There’s little in the way of soloing or free form instrumental work here, as the band truly put in a band’s collective performance whereby it would be difficult to imagine this record being anything but what we’ve already experienced here. With that said, the instances of individual performances where the band stripe things back now and again is appreciated. It’s worth mentioning this record stops for no-one, and for thirty-five minutes Olkoth unleash everything they’ve had pent up for years following their inception. A blistering ride for sure.