A lot has changed for Rituals of the Oak since they put out their last album, Come Taste the Doom, in 2012. With the exception of new bassist Dale Harrison, Mark III largely features the same musicians as that album, but the Australian quartet is much less reliant on the extreme molasses doom of their first two efforts. Instead, this album sees the group taking on much more eclectic influences, resulting in an effort that is more accessible and arguably more satisfying than what had come before.
Seeing how sound-alike songs were something of an Achilles’ heel for Rituals of the Oak in the past, it feels good to say that no two songs really sound alike on Mark III. “Abremalin Squares” starts the album off in a familiarly slow doom style, but I’d be hesitant to call this a metal album. “We Remain” features organ-heavy psychedelia, “Game of Tears” and “Woman” bring in some bass driven funk, “I’m So Down” aims for old school blues with a Stevie Ray Vaughan style guitar tone to match, and “The Northern Wall” tries out some heavy folk rock.
Thankfully the band knows how to keep this mish mash of songs from sounding too out of place with one another. Sabine Hamad-Linfoot’s vocals serve as a smooth unifier, offering the sultry delivery of previous albums but also showing off even more confidence and prominence than before. In addition, the songs themselves have some pretty solid hooks, with “Game of Tears” in particular offering a pretty fun chorus.
But for such an interesting genre blender, the album’s most interesting twist turns out to be the album’s closing cover of Fates Warning’s “The Sorceress.” As a fan of Connecticut’s favorite esoteric prog legends, I was curious to see how this take would turn out. While I feel like this version may be a little too stilted due to the rather poorly mixed drums, the vocals and guitar provide the faithful mix of heaviness and mystique that is mandatory on any homage to the whimsical weirdness that is John Arch.
Overall, Mark III isn’t quite at a classic level, but it shows that Rituals of the Oak has significantly improved in the five years between releases. When considering the band’s strict adherence to doom metal in the past, it is somewhat amusing to see them offer up such an eclectic release and quite satisfying to see how well they do with the styles at hand. Now is the time to check Rituals of the Oak out if you hadn’t done so before. With any luck, their next effort will be even stronger.
“Game of Tears”
“I’m So Down”