I will admit that I don't share the same affinity for death metal that a seemingly massive portion of the metal world does. It's not that I'm against the genre on philosophical grounds, or that I've never found any bands that I enjoy, but on the whole I've simply never been gripped by the constant onslaught of brutality that so many others lap up. I can appreciate the talent and skill that goes into writing and playing much of the material, but at its best death metal feels emotionally hollow to me, and at its worst it feels downright silly.
Darkness By Oath never falls into the latter category, but doesn't offer up much to challenge my first assertion. “Near Death Experience” is a nostalgic look back at the classic Gothernburg sound, filled with guitar harmonies and keyboard runs atop the mechanical rhythms. It's a sound that is infinitely more interesting than the sustained aural assault of the modern death metal movement, and is able to make the songs sound more fully realized. The melodies in the music are crucial, as without any sense of melody whatsoever, much of death metal struggles to survive as what I would deem music.
“In An Obscure Eternity” does this sound as well as can be expected, though borrowing more from second-wave stalwarts Children Of Bodom than from the classics. The song has the pulsing rhythms and suitably harsh though higher pitched vocals, yet has enough guitar harmonies and what can be called as much a sing-song chorus as death metal gets, making the end result a suitable blend that has something to offer everyone.
That isn't the case for every song, with many failing to mix the parts together as effectively. The limited tones available to work with make it a difficult task, but that's not an excuse for coming up short. When this style hits on all cylinders, it bridges the gap between death metal and the rest of the world in a way that lets both sides see each other. But that sort of success is rare, and while Darkness By Oath proves they can hit that mark, they don't do it often enough for “Near Death Experience” to be mentioned in the same breath as the albums its modeled after.
What made the Gothernburg sound a scene-altering phenomenon was the ability for that wave of bands to infuse both the guitars and vocals with melody that borrowed more than anyone would like to admit from pop music. In Flames wrote the book on how to manage this feat without sacrificing the metal heart of the music, and while it's clearly the sound Darkness By Oath is going for, they are in a different league.
It's hard for followers to live up to the founders, because instead of taking the wide array of influences that created the sound, their only influences are the sound itself. That dooms “Near Death Experience” to sounding like rehashed Gothenburg metal, because that's exactly what it is. That doesn't make it bad, because there's clearly a good band somewhere in this music, but it does make it unnecessary.