Guest Article by Belisario
Now that last year is already far behind, I would like to get back to a record featured on very few year-end lists and which, in this writer’s opinion, deserves to be highlighted. Summary Execution at Dawn is the debut album by Houston-based band Oath of Cruelty. Probably due to the fact of it being released in the last month of 2019, it didn’t get all the attention it is worthy of. Emerged from the fertile Texan underground scene and featuring members already seasoned in a broad number of bands, this battle-hardened act launched its first full-length after almost ten years of activity during which the band hasn’t manifestly been idle. The result is a compact and powerful album, which contrary to most modern death/thrash bands is not limited to a constant and simple aggression, choosing instead to develop different approaches and resources in songs that are incredibly varied and brief enough to eschew needless repetitions and excesses.
Its style could be described as a perfect hybrid between death and thrash, combining the intensity of Angelcorpse with the ease and pace of Deströyer 666. The music is delivered with great speed and power, yet also with remarkable accuracy, in songs that are thoroughly unified and stringed together despite their diverse nature. We even find very different parts inside each of them, in spite of their short running time. Everything seems to be precisely measured and calculated, something not very frequent in frenzied assaults of this kind, and although the battering is almost constant, the band knows when to slow down the rhythm or introduce a swift and amazing guitar solo that makes the song soar. There is not a single second of respite, and even the simplest transitions have been carefully polished in order for them to flow naturally. The generally positive impression is also reinforced by the fact of the drummer being a merciless beast, yet the guitars do not lag behind in terms of speed and ferocity.
Summary Execution at Dawn achieves a rare wonder in that all of its tracks are outstanding from start to finish, each of them featuring at least a small detail that differentiates it from the rest. This makes the album an excellent example of how to mix styles in a unified formula, leaving at the same time room for diversity and for riffs that alternate between sheer aggression and a softer, more heavy metal take, with variations that do not affect overall coherence. In spite of initial appearances, Oath of Cruelty’s music is anything but one-dimensional, and this gets proven when, close to the end of the album, we find a cover from another band, the Swedish act Merciless, whose style is clearly different (also death/thrash, but of the late-eighties variant) yet fits well together with the rest of styles showcased by the band, being more an expansion of their formula rather than the usual copycat version one might expect from a debuting act.
As in the most accomplished records, here the filler has been totally filtered, and the riffs and phrases never repeat beyond what is necessary. As a result, songs are short and intense but full of content, and one is eager to hear each of them again as soon as they are over. The fact of having previously released a couple of demos has probably been of great help in reaching this level of density and concision. Contrary to what some people seem to believe, demos are still an important element in a band’s life, not so much to draw the attention of labels as was common practice in the past, but in order for the musicians to put themselves in front of the serious task of having to build up a coherent musical piece in a smaller format before sailing off towards bigger and more ambitious endeavors. This is a possible explanation for the fact that this album is a mature, compact and rather personal entity instead of the half-baked and unpolished thing we use to find in the vast majority of debut albums released by new bands nowadays.
On a different note, the listener can also perceive how these musicians clearly look back to the past without any attempt to innovate, drawing inspiration from sources which lay twenty to thirty years ago to feed with old fuel the forge of the new. This is what explains that, although the technical and composing skills of the bands members are manifest, there is not much here that could be labelled as original or novel, but that does not seem to be of concern for them. In contrast to some of the individuals, already in their fifties, who invented the genres of extreme metal and currently waste their talent in generic products or experimental adventures of uncertain future, musicians in their thirties like these ones make an art out of the vindication of the past, and in their honest and solid approach lies the key to a functional and also amazing formula. As an album inspired by conflict, barbarity and the spirit of struggle, Summary Execution at Dawn works well and hits the mark, making up a brilliant example of bellicose metal still holding out against all invaders.
This review was originally written and published in Spanish at El Negro Metal.