Oakenshield - Legacy (2012)


Having taken four years to write, record and complete his latest album, Ben Corkhill exhibits tremendous amounts of patience in his music. Oakenshield, the moniker for his folk project, is as much about the journey as it is about the end point. So when it came time to piece together the follow up to the 2008 debut, "Gylfaginning," Corkhill was in no rush to get things done. The result is a positive step, a more massive sounding album, rich with synthesizers, flutes, horns, and strings. And by reducing the run time of the album from its predecessor, it feels more compact and full. But when you are the one and only member of a band with this sort of reach, the difficulties are many, and high risk. And while "Legacy" is an experience to be had, it may be a long one to get through.

What you may not expect, given the rash of generic folk bands flooding the market, is the sprawling soundscapes of "Northreyjar." Rich with symphonics and folk inspirations, this four minute intro is one you won't soon forget. In creates a stunning piece of scenery for the album, with horns and the tickles of bells gently ringing through your speakers. The same sense of delicacy is shared but not furthered on "Earl Thorfinn." The use of strings and whistles is excellent, but does leave the guitars feeling somewhat flat at times. There is a heavy reliance on synthesizers to keep the mix afloat, something they do well. The main vocal can come off as stilted, leaning towards a coarse speech more than a cohesive singing. But the true star is the instrumental, bolstered by a host of traditional instruments and chanting backing vocals. While the beats may be basic and lacking in lateral movement, they are executed at a high level. The outro portion is the perfect cross section of the track, giving you a clear sense of the talent at play.

Leaning more to the grandiose on the opening to "Jorvik," Corkhill takes a small step out of his comfort zone, successfully. Taken as parts, there is no one element that could carry the track. But as they come together, each layer becomes exponentially more powerful. Whether it is the light flutes or the multiple voices that chant behind it all, everything comes together in a raspy, distorted harmony. It is when all of these individual sounds are layered atop one another that the mix sounds complete, once again illustrated in the latter stages. If there is one track that stands apart from the rest, it is the more atmospheric "Mannin Veen," where the guitar work becomes more intricate, strengthening the entire production. With no vocal present, it allows every instrument to be heard in full glory, resulting in an overwhelmingly beautiful offering. Furthering that melodic sensibilities, a clean, acoustic guitar takes the reins on the intro to "Wen Heath," invited the others to join in the lighthearted tune. Having now found the balance between light and dark, the vocals rejoin the fray, this time finding a more stable place in the pecking order. It is the violin melody that rings triumphantly throughout the track, carrying the rest of the instruments on the flowing and fluttering notes.

With the addition of a clean vocal chorus on "Clontarf," Corkhill has now pushed himself to his limits, finding a home between the heavier segments and the dance inspiring interludes. There are some aggressive passages to be found here, most notably at the midway point where fun folk meets symphonic black metal in a head on collision. The contrast does wonders for the track as a whole, setting up a flute and whistle powered outro. But as the far reaching "Eternal As The Earth" fades in, you are left to wonder what else he has to offer. Having exhausted the same basic drum patterns throughout, it is left to the strings and winds to carve yet another melodic flourish to move things along. And while they prove to be capable time and time again, it begins to spread their impact thin across the next six minutes. And it seems to be a shame to save the best for last, something that is arguably the case here, as the nine minute epic "The Raven Banner" exhibits all of the strongest elements that Corkhill has up his sleeve. And even though you have heard all of these pieces scattered here and there, they come together in a more profound way. Yes, the run time may come to weigh on your mind about six minutes in, but the finish line is well worth the time of the race.

Perhaps more than any other subgenre of metal, folk relies most on the use of balance to keep the listener focused. And it is in this quest of an even mix that so many bands fail, leaning too much to one side or the other to keep their fans, or new listeners, happy. For Oakenshield, Ben Corkhill finds himself teetering on the brink of collapse at several keys moments, but manages to stave off disaster. At times, he relies on the violin and flute to pull too much of the weight, which reduces their impact in the long run. At other junctures, those touches are non existent, creating a stale mix, lacking energy. And while he always finds his way back to the path, he is one wrong turn away from "Legacy" getting lost in the forest.

6/10

Official Site - http://www.oakenshield.org/
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