Band Line Up:
Jacob Holmes – Bass
Nick Norris – Guitars
Erica Morgengrau – Vocals, Guitars
Dartanion Avalos – Drums
1. Blood Oracle
2. Wolves Of Thirteen
4. Poised At The Precipice Of Doom
5. Forced Exodus
6. Invert The Marker
7. Incipit Bellum
8. Evocation Of The Wheel
With a name like Morgengrau, one could be forgiven for thinking the eight songs that make up Blood Oracle have been pulled straight from the German Heavy Metal underground. It’s an assumption bolstered by the existence of a Bavarian group of Black Metallers sharing the same moniker. However, this review has its spotlight on an American death metal band, originating from Texas; their name has presumably been adopted from their guitarist/vocalist Erica Morgengrau.
Blood Oracle is Morgengrau’s sophomore album. Released by Unspeakable Axe Records, it arrives five years after their debut record, Extrinsic Pathway, and continues the old school, heads down, horns up template set by its predecessor. Any doubts that this would have been the case are confidently disregarded knowing this album was produced by Harris Johns; a name you will recognise from the sleeves of your Kreator, Voivod, Pestilence and Celtic Frost albums.
From the very start, expectations are met with force as the band come thundering in with a raw and grisly throwback to the Florida scene at the turn of the 80s into the 90s. The title track brings with it a compulsion to grab my skateboard and start rooting through boxes, looking for old Obituary and Asphyx cassettes. Johns has given this production a gloriously murky mix that evokes the gloomy swamp era of heavy death but with a vicious European streak. The Celtic Frost is strong here.
Wolves Of Thirteen follows on with some double bass drumming that punches hard under a wave of tremolo riffing and squealing guitar. This is music to bang your head to. There is a dark tone that is enhanced by some clandestine chanting to create an eerie, ritualistic backdrop to Dartanion Avalos’s rapid drum fills. Morgengrau are taking us on a journey to the dark side; one that arguable reaches is zenith as the melodic intro to Progression gives way to a thrashing riff that acts as an undeniable nod to vintage Slayer.
One of Blood Oracle’s clear strengths is its devotion to a time when death metal was delivered with blunt aggression. The band have captured the unrestrained energy of their live performance and seem to have deliberately retained all of their rough edges. Their performances aren’t necessarily smooth but they do carry a lot of passion.
Poised At The Precipice Of Doom is a good example of this; a song that starts with a dense, repeating phrase, slowed to a Black Sabbath tempo before catapulting itself into a raw blast beat. The band then cut these machine-gun passages with slower, heavier parts; the contrast bringing the best out of Erica as she barks and growls with a consistently imposing delivery.
Morgengrau’s rattling performance continues with Forced Exodus, a song that storms along until it breaks down into a majestic, fist-pumping stomp that precedes one of the album’s most ferocious tracks, Invert the Marker.
We are given a short break from the maelstrom via Incipit Bellum; a brief instrumental that evokes a preparation before the final battle. This ultimate clash comes in the form of Evocation Of The Wheel. It’s the sort of mid-paced hulk that the Tardy brothers have carved an entire career from. It’s a robust banger, but one that feels slightly misplaced on the album. Dare I say, it actually feels surplus to requirements and ends the album on a gloomy, uncertain note instead of what has otherwise been a ferocious charge through some great, old school death metal.
It’s a minor gripe. The quality and enthusiasm captured on this disc makes it well worthy of recommendation, especially if you value celebration over innovation.
Play it loud. Headbang. Repeat.