If I told you that Ben Corkhill plays mid-tempo Viking Metal, even though he hails from England, you would probably already get a pretty good idea of what OAKENSHIELD sounds like. With epic songs centered around the first Edda book, which is the ancient Norse collection of mythological poems, there isn't really much that separates this project from the flock, at least on paper.
Since the music never breaks its mid-paced crawl, many of the epic hymns on "Gylfaginning" have an underlying feeling of melancholy and longing. The guitar and bass are accompanied by a wonderful violin, and some tolerable programmed drums that never really grabs too much attention, which is probably for the best. Vocally, Corkhill mostly delivers the harsh kind, with some spoken words and chants thrown in for good measure. Relevant musical points of reference could be FALKENBACH or the Swedish group YGGDRASIL, but there's no denying that OAKENSHIELD stands on its own armored legs perfectly well. Despite the generic approach, Corkhill seems to have full control over what he's doing (and he's really doing everything, even mixing and producing), and the songs are all very strong by themselves, without breaking the wholeness of the album. The album art is worthy of praise as well, being some of the most beautiful I've seen all year, and the perfect companion to the equally atmospheric music.
If you're interested in Norse mythology and bands that deal with this in a serious manner, you ought it to yourself to get "Gylfaginning". Even though an injection of originality would have been appreciated, at least it's not happy-humppa Battle Metal, and that alone should be enough to catch your attention.
(Online September 11, 2008)