Hoth - _Oathbreaker_
(Independent, 2014)
by: Chaim Drishner (9 out of 10)
Well, you seem to learn a new thing each and very day, or so you'd hope. Like the fact Hoth is the name of the frozen planet featured on the sequel to the Star Wars original movie, namely "The Empire Strikes Back"; remember the opening scene of "The Empire Strikes Back", where the lead characters almost freeze to death in a snow blizzard only to be heroically rescued from certain frozen doom? Well, apparently that place is Hoth. With that crucial fact in mind, you'd approach Hoth's _Oathbreaker_ with caution, especially if you're a very inconsequential Star Wars fan, finding the concept goofy (come on! Star Wars?!) and too escapist to be taken seriously. Until you listen to the music.

You see, Hoth take their art back to the roots and basics of metal music. They focus on riffs almost exclusively, being the very backbone of the whole recording; sing-along catchy riffs, riffs that are so beautiful they make you want to dance, ridiculously engaging riffs to the point you want to merge with those metallic lullabies and become one with them; tunes that are so deliciously sweet and straightforward in their simple radiance and brilliance, they won't leave your head for days, spinning in your skull over and over again, lingering there for quite some time.

Hoth play a dangerous game; they walk the borderline between the aforementioned goofiness and brutality, yet while other bands could venture to either turf occasionally during an album, sounding at times ridiculous and at times vitriolic and bad-ass (case in point: Immortal, Bal-Sagoth and early Cradle of Filth), this American duo hailing from Seattle, Washington don't fall into the comical trap, and despite having the potential for doing just that -- failing at playing tough all the time -- they lay before your eyes a brutish beauty of an album that is as intelligent as it is fundamentally a no-frills tour de force of basic heavy metal.

Intelligently constructed and lyrically apt, Hoth's debut is an intriguing admixture of second wave Norwegian symphonic black metal a la Limbonic Art or Odium, Swedish melodic death metal along the lines of A Canorous Quintet's timeless _Silence of the World Beyond_, and American occult pioneering prodigy Absu, but echoing also the idiosyncrasy of the mostly and sadly unheralded but pretty awesome Scholomance.

Not that there aren't any exquisitely intricate moments scattered throughout the album; on the contrary. There are numerous obviously non-metal moments, like the acoustic guitar passages that sound like something taken from a Spanish folk song accompanying a passionate traditional flamenco dance; choral chants that are essentially bewitching with their deep vocal harmonies and mysterious flair. There are other aural ornamentations throughout the album; you know, those minute elements that reinforce the fact this group know what they do when it comes to the handling of musical instruments. However, the band's true brilliance lies with their skill in writing songs, and into that especially metallic riffs that will hover on in thin air and swirl around you like bad news for days and days due to their sheer simple beauty and catchiness. Talking about musical hooks? This album is one big hook, and the opening riff is, hands down, one of the most captivating moments in metal's history.

The music does not need layering or any other atmosphere generating trick; it is full and rewarding on its own merits despite the fact the production, or the very nature of the recording itself, is thin and somewhat shallow. Do not worry, however, as the manifold of riffs -- be they thrashing, fast played black metal style generating a wall of sound, or just displaying some good old heavy metal inclination towards the likes of Iron Maiden -- those fucking riffs always compensate for the lack of depth or multi-layering.

One of many tricks exploited by those qualified musicians is the use of motifs. In other words: once a riff is established, they sort of harmonize with the same melody on delay, and when the lead guitar plays, the very same tune appears shortly after, either on the same or on a lower key, lagging in perfect timing to produce this magnificent orchestra-like feeling, a guitar-driven choir that sings in successive timings -- first voice then a second one and probably a third voice follow on cue, blowing the listener's mind with their neoclassical fullness and richness. The opening track, "The Unholy Conception", showcases this technique quite well on its opening riff.

In that regard, neo-classicism is something Hoth like to use quite often; they can introduce a neo-classical guitar solo into a maelstrom of blasts similarly to what Children of Bodom did on their monumental _Hatebreeder_, or use it openly via their lead guitar passages or even with their rhythm guitar along the lines of, say, Windham Hell, in addition to a mild but effective usage of keyboards that enhances the orchestral dimension of the overall music.

The texts are of high quality and epic, if to judge a whole album in accordance to the only text published, being that of the first track, and in that regard the only complaint one might have is the absence of lyrics from the nice looking, 100% professionally assembled digipak. The album's cover art is definitely on par with the band's main theme, showcasing a frozen mountain giant of sorts amidst a barren, snow-covered, wilderness. The production is adequate for what the band strove to achieve, that is to say the accentuation of the guitars and their full blown artistry, and even though the album is pretty basic in terms of production values, it still manages to retain a massive atmosphere of futuristic versus ancient sentiments (a dichotomy that is ultimately the album's backdrop), where warmongering themes collide with contemplative moments of bliss and where hard hitting realism coincides with utter escapist surrealism.

Taking into consideration _Oathbreaker_ is both a debut album and a self release, in that context alone this would be considered as a masterpiece of galloping guitar mastery and ambient genius. But even without those technicalities, _Oathbreaker_ is pure heavy metal experience whose magnitude and inherent skills of the -artists- behind it are insurmountable by any given standard -- a festival of colorful riffs that will hammer their nails and drive them straight into one's skull leaving them there for a very long time, enforcing the unsuspecting victim to hum and whistle those bewitching tunes time and again, until those very nails will rust.

Any fan of advanced musicianship of the highest order must check this album out; if you're a fan of progression in metal but still hunger for the good old metallic paradigms, this melodious, riff-driven, lush and competent release is so very much for you, hence highly recommended.


(article published 28/4/2014)

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