Omotai’s third album A Ruined Oak is the soundtrack to a war. Not the glamorous, glorified war that bands like Manowar and Bolt Thrower portray, but rather the true, gritty, horrific essence of war. The thunderous climaxes are portrayals of the ferocious battles. In A Ruined Oak, Omotai explores the heavy aspect of their sound, and took that specific element as far as it could possibly go. The power of Omotai here is simply tectonic, complete with doomed out riffs, slightly distorted bass playing, berserk tribal drumming, and tortured shrieking. All of that chaos is drenched in a layer of thick, fuzzy sludge. But full blast assaults are only one part of the rather typical post metal formula that Omotai utilizes, which consists of uneasy ambience followed by jarring noise. The ambient sections of A Ruined Oak are excellently done; they serve to create tension and apprehension. They are very bleak and thin, but at the same time convey a definite feeling of unease. On occasion during these ambient parts, Omotai creates harmonies that are tiny bit discordant. This is demonstrated during the eerie opening to “Arms That Flood.” While this may sound like a bad idea, it works to perfection in the sense that it keeps the listener on edge and attentive.
A Ruined Oak is definitely meant to be listened to as a whole. If singled out, the individual songs are interesting in the sense that the climaxes are powerful and the ambient sections are well done, but if listened to together, the stubborn repetition of specific motifs makes for a hypnotic listening experience. Take, for example, the album opener “Welcome to the Adders’ Land.” The main sludgy riff built on sustained chords is repeated so many times that it mesmerizes the listener. Just when the listener is about to break out of their reverie, Omotai shift gears. It seems like each musical passage on this album is played for the exact right amount of time; long enough to mesmerize the listener, but not to the point in which it becomes boring. Because of this unerring precision, Omotai manage to sneak in a few odd aspects that would wade through cheese on another album, but only serve to further the ominous, hypnotic mood here.
Another thing that helps this album stand out is the production. It’s very sludgy, almost as though the band covered their mics in mud before recording it, and while this would normally be a less than pleasing thing, it works to the album’s advantage. Gritty compositions call for gritty production, and Omotai definitely seem understand that concept.
Enter “Back to the Drifting Satellite,” one of the band’s heaviest, most ferocious tracks on A Ruined Oak. What makes this particular song so potent is not only its biting riffs and relentless drumming, but the vocals, performed by the whole band. Omotai’s guitarists Sam Waters and Jamie Ross are pumping out incredibly heavy riffs since the beginning. This album delivers great, and heavy guitar parts, but it also sounds much more improved and precise than it was the case on previous two albums.
As great as a delightfully distorted doom riff can be over a forlorn soundscape, too often bands forget that you have to actually take your songs somewhere. Omotai fall in the atmospheric camp, certainly, as their sound leans more on visually captivating soundscapes. It’s not traditional post-rock, but these Houstonians know how to create ominous soundtracks to a mental walk in a forest.
That leads to the second point, which is Omotai’s emphasis on feel and mood works very well with a doom-focused style where the vocals feel like an afterthought. A Ruined Oak is quite deliberate in its execution. Aside from quite a few startlingly heavy riffs, you don’t get surprised by a transition, and the fully harsh vocals make the record feel heavier than it actually is. Omotai’s melodic sensibilities carry their weight in gold here, helping lift the moments when songs drag from their sheer weight.
There is no denying that Omotai are both skilled musicians and a great band. This has allowed them to create a piece that will certainly stand the test of time. The production is clear, cutting guitars with a rumbling bass are the main focus here, they do not disappoint in any way. Everything is filthy and has its own layer of dirt, massive plus. Every instrument has its own place and never steps on another, thought has been placed while mixing this beast to let everything breathe.
Far from predictable A Ruined Oak is a thoroughly engaging ride from beginning to end. Drummer Daniel Mee’s disorientating technicality in the likes of “Fire is a Whore” staggers you dizzy, whereas the colossal A-bomb riff that drops in “Last of the Green Vial” is just ridiculously, titanically heavy. This is a hulking monster of a record that only grows more intense with every listen.
A Ruined Oak is available as digital download and double vinyl, pressed on a heavy 200-gram Silver / Purple wax, from Bandcamp. Photos of the vinyl edition can be seen below.