Every now and then you run into a debut album that lifts your spirits and brings a huge smile to your face as you think about what might lie ahead after this promising start of a new career. I’ve had the luck to find a few in my years of reviewing and today I can add another one to that list as in my humble opinion Oscenrad’s debut release, Beyond the Fells, definitely qualifies. Oscenrad is the brainchild of a multi-instrumentalist and solo artist that is called by the name Hæðenwulf. The project was founded in 2017. Judging by his name you’d be forgiven for thinking he originates from one of the Scandinavian countries, which is of course one of the main breeding grounds of a wide variety of metal styles, but you’d be wrong. Oscenrad hails from the UK, which is probably why the kind pf music Oscenrad provides is, according to what little info I could find, best described as Anglo-Saxon heathen metal which of course is the central European variety of Viking metal. After a thorough listen I can conclude that that is a description I can fully endorse. Now, we all know the days of strictly held genre borders have long past and been replaced by all sorts of genre-defying styles and needless to say Oscenrad is no exception to this new standard. Influences from various genres can be heard throughout this release including, but not limited to several types of metal. Beyond the Fells brings you a six-song, 54 minute atmospheric journey through Hæðenwulf’s musical display cabinet that, I must admit, is already richly filled. The lyrical themes, that, according to the website, find their roots in Paganism, history, poetry, folklore and mythology as well as other, more introspective topics, such as philosophy and spirituality (or the lack thereof in the modern world), adding depth to the already quite complex songs.
After some soundscapes that create the impression of an army sailing in from the sea, opener Across the Waves fades in to develop into a great over nine minutes spanning song that is mainly based on a strong Viking metal backbone. The somewhat inciting rhythm definitely convinces, which also goes for Hæðenwulf’s harsh vocals. The added intermission with preceding bass line are the icing on the cake. My first encounter with Oscenrad turns out to be somewhat of a treat, hopefully the rest of the album will turn out to be just as nice. And sure enough, successor Beneath the Ancient Sky does not disappoint with its compelling, striking rhythm halfway through the song. Title song Beyond the Fells, the third consecutive composition that spans over nine minutes, sadly offers less excitement compared to its two predecessors as this is pretty much a run-of-the-mill Viking metal song. Still a good song, don’t get me wrong, but nothing too special. Next up is an odd duck in the pond, an acoustic instrumental piece called Seeress that has a nice rhythm and a somewhat soothing atmosphere. In no way in line with the previous tracks, but, also since I’m a big fan of variety, a welcome intermezzo nonetheless. One that is followed by Runes Ye Shall Find, a song in which Oscenrad picks up where he had left off and that has its highlight in the form of a nice double bass rhythm as the end of the song draws near. Then there’s only one more song left, the album’s conclusion, the epic 12-minute pinnacle Of wolf and Blood that once more displays the impressive skills and huge potential Oscenrad possesses. It’s a song with many, sometimes only subtly differing faces that packs all Oscenrad has to offer into one track.
Admittedly this is not a perfect album and in all honesty Oscenrad is neither particularly innovative nor shockingly groundbreaking, but both are irrelevant in my opinion. Why? Well, for starters I have yet to encounter perfection which I know will never happen anyway and secondly, why change a winning team? Doing what you excel in may be a safe path, but when executed with care it usually brings nothing but good, as is proven here. With Beyond the Fells Oscenrad delivers a more than solid and certainly above average Viking, pardon Anglo-Saxon metal album that will surely stand out in a sea of similar releases, especially considering it is a debut album we’re talking about here. The fact the entire production, composing, playing, recording, mixing and so on is the work of one man, Hæðenwulf, makes this an even more impressive release, although that is and should be far subordinate to the tunes of course. But even if that is left out of the equation, Beyond the Fells is an album that is more than worthy of your time and money, no matter if you are a fan of the genre or not. The solid compositions are well thought-out and executed with skill, maintaining a high standard where it comes to quality at all times. Do not hesitate to grab a copy when you have the chance, I’m sure you’ll find it to your liking, much as I did.