Artist: The Oracle

Title: Hypogeum

Label: Repose Records

Rating: 6/10

Words: Emanuel Matos

To create music that feels mysterious, one must first understand humanity’s paradoxical relationship with the unknown. Dread and curiosity, reluctance and lure…ultimately mystery is an unpredictable bittersweet concoction.Worcester, Massachusetts-based avant-electronics project The Oracle revels in these notions on its debut Hypogeum, a six-song full-length embedded in occultism and religious references.

The album takes its name after The Hypogeum of Ħal Saflieni, a Neolithic subterranean structure in Paola, Malta, believed to be the oldest prehistoric underground temple in the world. Such an intriguing reference seems to be matched by the music: different synths conflating into dark ambient textures, combined with industrial guitars and drums.

Even though the project’s aesthetic is reminiscent of black metal, The Oracle never fully commits to it sonically

Even though the project’s aesthetic is reminiscent of black metal, The Oracle never fully commits to it sonically. Opening song “Born from the Mouth of God” starts with a spectral harmony and picks up the pace early on with a marching-like drum pattern, but never really delivers the crushing weight that it promises. It feels like an extended intro, a slow opening scene to an enigmatic movie

The following track, “The Face in the Shroud”, an obvious nod to Vangelis and his all-absorbing film scores, counter-intuitively slows things down. The chord progression is solid but not enough to hold ground for the better part of six minutes, and the distortion of the guitar once again introduces a potential that is left unfulfilled.

“Akeldama”, arguably the album’s most persuasive argument,  arrives at the best possible moment. The metal influences are finally let out of their cave, with an electrifying symbiosis between guitars, synth loops and an unyielding drum machine beat

“Akeldama”, arguably the album’s most persuasive argument,  arrives at the best possible moment. The metal influences are finally let out of their cave, with an electrifying symbiosis between guitars, synth loops and an unyielding drum machine beat. The perceptible hostility of the song makes sense both in terms of tracklist and concept – Akeldama is a biblical reference to a field allegedly acquired with the money Judas Iscariot received for betraying Jesus.

The Oracle channels this newfound aggression with surgical precision on the second half of the record, either by upping the raspiness of the textures (“An Ascension”) or by overlaying synths and eerie melodies to a point where looking over the shoulder starts to feel instinctive.

Recorded at the infamous GodCity Recording Studio in Salem, Massachusetts (owned by Converge’s Kurt Ballou), Hypogeum does not follow the boundary-pushing tradition of its place of inception. It sounds apprehensive and often held back. It exudes an aura of despondent occultism but never reaches the apotheosis that it sets out to achieve, and there are a few moments where it feels unfocused and repetitive, such as second to last song “The Road to Heaven”.

Still, this is a promising debut that lays out a fascinating foundation, almost like the first step into a cult initiation. The metal/electronic limbo inhabited by The Oracle may need refinement – and perhaps to drink more from the fountain of artists like Sunn O))) – but its cinematic approach is proficiently executed, a vivid score to the origin, rise and fall of an unknown messiah.

Hypogeum is out now via Repose Records

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