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An enigmatic solo project, Ohdaith draws upon ancient Celtic mythology and other religion to present darkly atmospheric spoken poetry with a semi-industr...
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Ohdaith : Winters Reign (EP)

A singular and extremely interesting combination of poetry and atmosphere marks Ohdaith's debut.

I'm certainly more than willing to be introduced to some others, if they exist, but for the moment, I can't think of any bands that take the same - or even a really comparable - approach as Ohdaith. Hailing from the serpent-free wilds of the Emerald Isle, and drawing upon the complex history of its Celtic-Gaelic-Catholic heritage for inspiration, this solo project could perhaps best be described as a contemporary interpretation of the teachings of the classic Irish bardic schools.

Ohdaith is, first and foremost, a storyteller persona: reciting dark and mysterious legends from within the dancing shadows cast by flickering peat-scented firelight, the focus diverted from the hunched and hooded figure of the narrator by the images that his words conjure and animate, filling them with tenebrous and transient life for the benefit of a spellbound audience. Simple yet powerful, the twin powers of word and voice are framed and shaped and subtly reinforced with carefully-chosen ambience that at times overlaps with musical definition, and at others serves as a purely illustrative sonic backdrop which needs no strict instrumental basis. And whilst those sources and that approach has something in common with the similarly essentially bardic Forever Autumn, the actual implementation is worlds apart from the skeletal frailty of the latter's Acoustic Doom.

I heard the very early cuts of a couple of tracks some while ago now, and was very encouraged by the atmosphere and feel of them: one, 'The Haunting...', in slightly tidied-up format, has carried forward to this debut EP; the other two are new works, honed partly through fairly extensive performing on the live circuit over the past year. So, a first recording it may be, but not a rough-and-ready one - there's been a lot of preparation and refinement gone into its deliberately enigmatic and understated packaging.

Musically, the key point is indeed atmosphere. A lot of different elements feed into it - samples, a battery of different synth/keyboard sounds and voices, electric guitar and programmed drums - but, at any given time, those in use are generally quite sparse and skeletal: even the purely instrumental passages allow as much space and silence as they do texture and fill. It's disturbingly effective as far as creating mood is concerned, right from the opening piece. Distant and muffled guitar, delicately drifting keyboards, and the sounds of dripping water paint a slowly-unfolding, vivid picture of dank, foggy darkness in which less-identifiable things crawl and hide, gibber and die. Essentially a recital of the traditional Song of Amairgen (Amergin Glúingel, one of the warrior/poets who conquered the Tuatha Dé Danann to found modern-day Éire), the focus is on Ohdaith's voice and cadence, the tone pitchshifted down to a cavernous bass. Dense and mysterious in nature, the ancient poem illuminates the sounds, and is in turn illustrated by them, in what can only be described as a highly effective synergy that makes the 13-minute length pass almost too quickly.

With less of a duration to work with, the remaining two tracks aim more directly for the point, without making any very substantial changes to the basic form of presentation. 'Nazerene' takes a slightly punchier, more aggressive approach: perhaps a little hackneyed in its 'Lucifer laying bare the falsehood of Christ' riff, and a little reminiscent of Draconian's more gripping 'Expostulation'. Still, it isn't by any means bad, and the following 'Winters Reign' - mixing storms with Enigma-style Gregorian background vocals, heartbeat-slow percussion with soaring guitar - more than makes up for any minor shortfall there.

At the end of the day, this will very much stand or fall on how you view spoken-word poetry set to music. As part of a wider repertoire, it crops up frequently enough (just off the top of my head, in Doom: Saturnus, Empyrium, Anathema, Morgion, Draconian, MDB...), but it's seldom an exclusive method of delivery. It's easy to get wrong (if you've ever heard William Shatner's 'The Transformed Man', you'll already know that...), and so, in fact, is creating a believably authentic Atmospheric Doom setting: all too often, that simply descends into the blatantly manipulative. Ohdaith, though, has the knack for getting both halves of that equation right, and if the later track 'I Am Hell' is anything to go by, there is better still to come. However, for now, I can only thoroughly recommend this EP as an excellent example of how to step outside the box and do something genuinely different - and if you value the power of language, it ought to find a way to grip you.

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Reviewer's rating: 8/10


Tracklist :
1. The Haunting Of Amairgen The Druid
2. Nazerene
3. Winters Reign

Duration : Approx. 24 minutes

Visit the Ohdaith bandpage.

Reviewed on 2015-09-13 by Mike Liassides
A Dream Of Poe - The Wraith Uncrowned
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