Released towards the end of last year, Oak’s The Quiet Rebellion of Compromise wasn’t an album I considered for my picks of 2022, simply because I hadn’t listened to it enough. Having immersed myself in its riches many times now, I have to admit that it should have made my top five list quite easily.
This is Oak’s third album, the first I’ve heard, and it is magnificent. I’m getting a little bored of writing ‘this band hail from Norway..’, as it seems that every other album that vies for my attention originates there, but the fact is that they call Oslo home. What is so special about the place I’ve no idea, but it does seem to be a well of creativity which shows no sign of drying up.
The Quiet Rebellion of Compromise as an album title is a bit of a mouthful. ‘Quiet Rebellion’ might have been snappier, but the fact is that Oak have made an uncompromising album, and they’ll call it what they want. The source of inspiration and lyrical theme of this work is the difficult subject of depression and suicide, and the atmosphere of these songs ranges from melancholy to dark. The colour palette is subdued, but the textural scope is wide and varied, and a delight to listen to. There is a symphonic sweep to the album which picks you up and carries you along for its duration. You’ll not escape its gentle grip until the last track has disappeared into silence. The lyrics are somewhat oblique and not that easy to follow at times, and given the subject being explored, that might not be a bad thing, but this doesn’t mean it’s a difficult listen. Much of the record is melodic and accessible despite the underlying sadness and regret, and there is a hard and heavy edge which contrasts pleasingly with the quiet moody moments. There are soaring choruses which are uplifting and memorable, so it’s not all doom and gloom.
Whilst Oak have their own identity, there are points of reference which crop up here and there, and for me the most obvious one is Steven Wilson. Mention of him will probably put off as many people as it appeals to, but there are several moments which remind me of his approach, and I mean that as a compliment. It’s the darker more ominous sounds giving way to hummable choruses and chugging riffs, the mournful piano refrains and imaginative use of electronics which point in that direction at times, but make no mistake, it is a nod only; Oak go their own way.
From opener Highest Tower, Deepest Well, with its piano and bass drum pulse intro, stridently heavy riff and treated vocals, giving an air of suffocation, to the elegiac closing song Guest of Honour with its orchestral feel and gorgeous slide guitar, Oak create their own sound world. The title track has a sort of Opeth flavour with its folk-tinged melancholia and haunting melody, whilst Dreamless Sleep starts with insidious electronics and sinister undercurrent. Particular mention must be made of guest sax player Steinar Refsdal who provides inspired moody colouring to several tracks, including this one, and his contribution is significant. Also worthy of mention is producer David Castillo, whose CV largely comprises heavier bands such as Katatonia, Dark Tranquility and Long Distance Calling, but also includes Leprous, and there are moments on Quiet Rebellion which would compare to some of their more recent work. He manages to bring out the essential elements in each song, and I’m sure had a lot to do with the shape of the final mixes.
There is one track that I’ve not yet mentioned which is the centrepiece of this broodingly beautiful album, and that is Paperwings, which at nearly 14-minutes is by the far the longest piece, and absolutely stunning. It begins with creepy electronics and a sense of foreboding, with almost spoken lyrics, a disturbingly emotionless delivery which softens as we switch to singing, and a gently strummed riff which gains in strength. It is a slow building piece, with a mid-section which includes the voice of a psychiatrist speaking to his entranced patient, overlaid with a dying slide guitar. At the breakdown, piano sets the scene for heavy power chords and an Opeth-like doomy riff as we reach the album’s crescendo. At this point the terror of the song erupts into 25-seconds of harsh vocals, like the exorcism of some inner demon. It is a thrilling and moving climax, and absolutely right in this context. And I know that despite its brevity, some will now not be listening, but it’s their loss because it is totally justified and works brilliantly. The first time I heard it I was stunned into silence for several minutes, and it is one of my favourite songs of last year without any doubt.
So, quiet? Sometimes. Rebellious? Often. Compromising? Certainly not, although overall it is quite accessible, so maybe! But seriously, Oak have made a riveting record with great attention to detail, and have poured their hearts and souls into making the best album they could, and it is more than worthy of anyone’s attention. I can’t wait to hear what they create next, and you can be sure they’ll do it on their own terms.
01. Highest Tower, Deepest Well (5:58)
02. Quiet Rebellion (4:51)
03. Dreamless Sleep (5:37)
04. Sunday 8am (5:55)
05. Demagogue Communion (6:16)
06. Paperwings (13:52)
07. Guest of Honour (7:03)
Total Time – 49:32
Simen Valldal Johannessen – Vocals, Keyboards
Sigbjorn Reiakvam – Drums
Øystein Sootholtet – Bass
Stephan Hvinden – Guitar
Steinar Refsdal – Saxophone
Record Label: Karisma Records
Country of Origin: Norway
Date of Release: 11th November 2022