Serpentine stare of the moon oracle

MOON ORACLE: Ophidian Glare

Release year: 2023
Label: Bestial Burst/Signal Rex

Two years after their debut album, Finnish trio Moon Oracle are back with another helping of mystical, doom-ladened black metal. Whilst some things have changed, the core essence of traditional yet non-conformist black metal is unchanged.

In our recent review of the debut album (click here), we – the royal we makes a return – likened it to the rather adventurous days of early noughties Finnish black metal, in both good and bad. The former being represented by daring to have a unique vision, the latter being represented by a slight lack of refinement of it. Let’s see how Moon Oracle fare this time around…

Listening to Ophidian Glare, it becomes very quickly clear that both the band’s sound and their vision of themselves have become more refined. The rough edges and the distinct lack of polish haven’t gone anywhere: Moon Oracle remains a jagged, venomous entity. But where debut album Muse Of The Nightside on occasion felt a bit too rough around the edges, losing some of its impact in the process, Ophidian Glare is more focused.

The style is still a down-tuned, raw style of black metal that alternates faster sections with moments of lurching, doomy torture. The fast sections never accelerate to breakneck speeds, but keep a steady, speedy and thoroughly organic gallop. From time to time, such as on album opener The Numinous Gate Opens, the album sort of sounds like Impaled Nazarene’s Ugra Karma slowed down and endowed with a murkier sound. And yes, that is obviously praise. On the other hand, when the band slows down – the mid-section of the same track serves as a good example – Moon Oracle almost come across as death doom with a tuned-down black metal sound.

As before, the bass has a significant role in the group’s sound. The synths, often lurking barely audibly in the background, also have a surprisingly important role, enhancing the tracks with a sense of noctural, esoteric mystery. Overall, the sound is very dry: even to the point where sometimes the guitars sound like crumbling to dust. The synths help to give the sound a bit more depth and dimension. The end result is, especially when the band ups the tempo, a swirling maelstrom of abrasive chaos.

And, as on the debut, Harald Mentor’s vocals play an important part in Moon Oracle’s sound. They are still strongly distinctive, a hoarse, parched, gravelly bark. With very little effects upon them, the snarling vocals have the same raw, brutal impact as Nocturno Culto’s famously dry vocals on Darkthrone’s Panzerfaust. Especially on album closer Abysmal Crimson Desert, Mentor’s meandering and tortured vocals remind me of the brilliant Quintessence from aforementioned Panzerfaust. The lurching, hypnotically repetitive track bears otherwise too a passing resemblance to that classic track.

The bottom line of Ophidian Glare is an album that feels like a genuine improvement on all sectors. It’s more focused and streamlined than the debut. The sound is no less raw and primitive, but a bit more polished in the sense that it serves its purpose better and complements the music more effectively. It’s more mysterious, esoteric and atmospheric; again, without sacrificing the rawness and primal strength.

In being all of these things, Ophidian Glare more potently captures the unique but still traditional character of Moon Oracle. Beneath the dry, down-tuned sound and sections of lurching doom is a solid core of traditional but far from generic black metal. The combination is, like on the debut, something with genuine character. At the same time, the more focused expression and somewhat more balanced sound makes the album a bit more accessible, without watering it down.

In a nutshell, Muse Of The Nightside was promising. Ophidian Glare cashes in on that.

Visit Moon Oracle on Bandcamp

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