An okta is a unit of measurement used to describe the amount of cloud cover at any given location. The term has become the basis for the name chosen by a group of Philadelphia musicians led by visual and musical artist Bob Stokes (Drones for Queens) and including friends of his from previous bands — drummer Rob Macauley and fellow bassist Carl Whitlock of Dirt Worshipper, and minimalist composer Jason Baron from Cloud Minder, who plays the cello with Oktas.
Under that name they’ve recorded a debut self-titled EP that embraces a range of influences, from ambient minimalism to atmospheric black metal and epic doom metal, woven together with a cinematic edge. Lyrically “based in the filth ridden streets of south Philadelphia”, as Bob Stokes tell us, the words transport us “to a world destroyed by mankind’s own hubris, pllagued with endless war, constant natural disasters and humanity desperate for redemption”.
The EP is set for digital release on September 20th, which will coincide with an art show by Bob Stokes at the Grindcore House Cafe in Philadelphia in conjunction with Dark Arts and Craft. And in advance of the release it’s our pleasure to premiere one of the EP’s three tracks — “Silfra“.
“Silfra” is the last track on the EP, and is described by Stokes as “an epic, nature-worshipping doom ballad drawing hard influences from bands like Type O Negative, Isis, and Neurosis.” Like all the songs on the EP, dual bass performances (or in this case a triple bass onslaught) deliver the weight and carry the melodies in the song, accented by Baron’s cello. The range of tones coaxed from the bass guitars become one of the song’s many astonishing attractions.
The song opens with a catastrophic barrage of sound. Grotesquely distorted strings and bone-fracturing drumwork combine to create a wash of caustic abrasion and stupendous grooves. The brutal ministrations of the bass and the crash of cymbals stand out as the song proceeds, with reverbed howls and screams ratcheting the music’s intensity even higher. The bass converts to a diseased buzzing sound as the drums rumble, conveying a sense of illness and moaning misery, but also creating mental images of arms outstretched for help. That sense of desperate yearning becomes more penetrating as the melody rises in trilling vibrations.
The deep grinding undertones and crushing percussive blows continue driving the track until about 4 minutes in, when the song takes a sharp detour with the moody sounds of the cello and rippling, layered ringing notes over a catchy bass pulse. A sense of hopefulness, or at least wistfulness, comes through in this soft and spellbinding passage, and it seems to persist even when the music begins to surge again. The transition is beautifully done, and from there forward the bass instruments soar and plummet through an extravagant range, both in sound and in mood, as the drummer himself shifts through morphing percussive patterns.
The entire trip is little short of stunning, and so is the EP as a whole.
For more info about the release, watch the Oktas FB page. The EP — which features amazing cover art by Stokes — will eventually become available for acquisition on Bandcamp.