There’s something about the crushing weight of doom metal and its relationship to nature that almost seems paradoxical. The natural world doesn’t need a soundtrack, yet doom metal, at its most elemental and organic, acts as a most fitting sonic complement to the sheer awe one feels when gazing upon a hulking mountaintop, peering across an open desert or soaking up a cascading waterfall. And that’s the beauty of music: evoking a natural feeling or scene and translating it into something supernatural. Germany’s Scorched Oak appears to understand this concept well on their debut album Withering Earth.
This power trio, comprised of Linda on bass and vocals, Ben on guitar and vocals, and Freed on drums, crafted something incredibly special with their first full-length album. For starters, they play like a band that’s been at it for years, but they only released their first bit of music in 2017. One listen to Withering Earth, and it becomes apparent very quickly that Scorched Oak are poised to become a name to watch very closely — and soon. It’s refreshing to hear a doom album open with a funky drum break as opposed to feedback (not that there’s anything wrong with that), as Scorched Oak does on album opener “Mountain.” It serves as the perfect lead-up into the song’s fuzzy guitar hook, and what a hook it is. Once Linda kicks in with those smokey vocals, the deal is sealed, and Scorched Oak stakes their claim.
Each of the song’s titles on Withering Earth evokes a natural element or landscape, and in listening through the entirety of the album, the band’s intention becomes clearer. Each song paints an elaborate sonic portrait of the element from which it takes its namesake, all of which are part of a larger, uniform sonic canvas. There’s certainly a potent element of ambitious musicality sprinkled throughout the album. That said, at its core, Withering Earth is a kickass metal record crammed with killer riff after riff. Scorched Oak draws from the many different styles and subgenres of doom metal to weave rich tapestries of fuzzed-out heaviness. The production is crisp and clear, allowing each instrument to pierce through what is a clean yet crushing mix.
Traces of the vanguard of bands who paved the way for and are obvious influences on Scorched Oak can be heard throughout the album; Clutch on the swinging “Swamp,” Sleep on the grooving “Forest” and Electric Wizard on the colossal “Desert.” Even so, Scorched Oak builds upon the blueprints set forth by those bands and takes a few leaps of faith in the process. What results is hands-down one of the best doom metal albums of 2020, and certainly one of the best debuts in recent memory.