Maybe it’s just due to my age, but when I think of heavy music from New England, I tend to think of metalcore (both the old school mostly-hardcore style and the mid aughties explosion of melodeath with clean vocals and breakdowns) more than doom metal, but that’s what I’ve been presented with today. Mourn the Light and Oxblood Forge are two fairly distinctly different bands that are bonded by a shared disposition towards doom in their riffs and identity, but that’s pretty much all the similarity you’re going to find.
Starting off with Mourn the Light’s side of the split, it’s… actually not very good. I feel like their intention was to blend lively Candlemass-esque doom with 90s-era Ozzy Osbourne (complete with gratuitous Zakk Wylde style pinch harmonics), but somehow that mixture just winds up sounding like Godsmack. There’s a sluggish, grinding quality to their two “real” songs where they just kinda lurch around with no real direction, and the vocalist has this deep, grungy baritone that at least kinda fits with the final product, but the inclusion of a Candlemass cover and a piano ballad only serves to highlight his limitations. He does not have the range to tackle anything Messiah Marcolin ever sang, and as a result, he helped turn an otherwise competent “Bewitched” cover into something wholly lacking.
I don’t want to spend too much time talking about their side for admittedly petty reasons. I can’t help but feel like Mourn the Light is doing everything in their power to elbow their way to the front here. Their bio section in the promo blurb I got is way longer and brags about their 4500-mile tour across the US culminating in performances at SXSW among others, gasses up their quick rise to local popularity, and most tellingly, refers to this split as part of their “hostile audio takeover.” That’s really what it feels like, because not only does the blurb read like “MOURN THE LIGHT IS GOING TO TAKE OVER THE WORLD and oxblood is pretty good too I guess,” but they also have nearly three times as much music on here, thanks entirely to a below-average cover of a classic song (that comes as a free digital download if you buy their version of the split, because of course, this feels less like a collaboration between peers and more like a condescending charity act) and an excruciatingly boring eight-minute piano ballad based on their previous single. So there’s an intangible sense of self-importance here that I can’t really prove, but this doesn’t pass the smell test.
And that’s why it’s so funny that the Oxblood Forge side is ten thousand times better. Their side kicks off with “Screams from Silence,” which initially feels like a kind of underwhelming, if not much more authentic, doom track, but after about a minute it just… becomes awesome. Oxblood Forge has much more influence from more energetic trad metal with a vaguely thrashy undertone, and they’re quite unafraid to pick up the pace and start tearing the walls down right when the oppressive doom starts to get stale. The vocals are a standout as well because they start off with a standard clean baritone similar to the first side, but once the music picks up into double-time, they morph into a hoarse screech that sounds much more unique. The high-flying guitar solos carry a lot of that early 80s Saxon-esque fire as well, and the whole thing sounds more like a creative love letter to disparate classics than Mourn the Light’s sluggish exercise in boring non-songs.
So the split, on the whole, is very… well, split. The A-side is very underwhelming nebulous “modern metal” that sounds like it’s aiming for doom but landing on vaguely doomy southern/grunge metal that doesn’t stick with you at all, but the B side is a fierce and scorching duo of old school metal delivered in a decidedly loving way. Mourn the Light’s side isn’t bad necessarily, but it’s definitely weak, while Oxblood Forge’s side rips the skin straight the fuck off my bones. So the final product coalesces into a decently “average” grade, but just know that that’s purely because one side is bland and the other side fuckin’ rips.