In the sobering, slow motion world of funeral doom, certain traits are non-negotiable. The excruciating tempos, the profound sense of existential despair, the thick wall of grandiloquent reverb: it's a robust and fertile formula, but one that is easy enough to harness that it only occasionally throws up a record of unquestionable brilliance. Audibly aiming at the idiosyncratic heights scaled by the likes of SHAPE OF DESPAIR, ESOTERIC and PANTHEIST, Portugal's OAK have absolutely nailed it here, with a four-track crawl into unfathomable shadows that encompasses plenty of unexpected elements while never straying too far from the grim, grief-stricken path.
"Lone" begins with two colossal epics, "Sculptures" and "Mirror". Both take a painstaking, meandering route toward mortal horror, with as much clangorous post-rock and artful ambience filling the sonic void as there are giant riffs. You can hear the subtle influence of GODSPEED YOU! BLACK EMPEROR's bittersweet barrage twinkling in the background, but OAK's elegant handling of their disparate inspirations makes each transition from near silence to infernal cacophony seem equally startling. "Sculptures" is particularly powerful, with shades of MY DYING BRIDE at their austere best, and a spine-tingling final section that allows chords to hang like unanswered questions in icy, unforgiving night air. Put more simply, this is incredibly atmospheric and immersive stuff.
Meanwhile, OAK provide plenty of brutal grist for the genre-hopping mill. Blastbeats and tooth-rattling kicks infect the final moments of "Mirror", while final track "Maze" is another vicious bolt from the blue, with sustained bursts of breakneck black metal fury and gnarly, dissonant grooves: more Norway than Portugal, and yet weirdly fresh and unfamiliar. The anguished, final crescendo is a neatly startling way to finish an album that commands the attention from start to finish. If OAK can build on this potential, their next record could be a snail's pace game changer.