Oraculum - Always Higher - (5.5/10)
Published on September 10, 2017
South American extreme metal has an internationally recognized reputation for primordial savagery that has continued on since the 80’s. Pioneers in barbarity whose accomplishments found the backbones of death, black, and thrash that hold up to this day. With the rise of war metal there has been a renewed interest in this madness from the past, something Oraculum captured quite well on their excellent 2014 debut EP Sorcery of the Damned. It quickly acquired a reputation for the extreme grainy rawness of its production job and the mutated thrashing of its riffing. Three years later and Always Higher brings it back in full force but this time, something’s missing from their book of black magic.
Off the bat, there are some immediately notable improvements. The production is the first, overall higher fidelity than its predecessor but with a crispy semi-live sounding approach that manages to separate each instrument well but layer them in a blanket of shrapnel. It’s akin to an upgraded version of the analog production of those times, a modern take on an ancient form of art. The riffing, ugly as ever, sees a slight upgrade in tightness and variety with lots of longer winding passages and viscerally satisfying crunch akin to the best of the original German and South American thrash tyrants given an extra dose of vileness. In other words on the aesthetic front, they’ve stepped up their game.
Unfortunately, it seems to have come at the cost of the songwriting. It doesn’t seem too noticeable at first on the two new songs that comprise the meat of the EP but very quickly, it becomes very rushed. “Lex Talionis” features some of their fastest and most consistently aggressive playing and taken on that level alone, it’s amazing. However, it’s a lot of empty motion as a whole; not a lot really happens in the song compared to say, “The Vessel of Orichalcum” off of 2014’s Sorcery of the Damned. After a blitzing introduction it settles into a somewhat tame mid-tempo churn that simply feels lackluster by comparison with its plodding gait, torn away from our sight by a fast ripping war metal esque one before hastily jumping back into the opening moments of the song, coincidentally the best riffs. “Semper Exclesius” also suffers from this jerky, abrupt approach to songwriting where they attempt to counter creeping mundaneness with bursts of sudden energy, spending nearly the entire song in this dragging Celtic Frost/Asphyx style plod. They only break away for this for a somewhat forced sounding midsection and a solo near the end, a far cry from the more balanced usage of tempos and carefully balanced tension levels of Sorcery….
Yeah, there’s a Poison cover, yes it’s well done, but it’s somewhat telling when the best part of this release isn’t even their own material. The three year absence might have tightened up their playing and production values but the mastery of their craft hidden behind a wall of abrasive texture we heard in 2014 seems to have departed. Yet perhaps this is only a minor stumble for Oraculum; there are some areas they have improved that while aesthetic, if further focused and expanded on could yield fruit. Otherwise this EP is recommended you skip unless you’re an utter die hard.