Das Oath - or The Oath as they are often referred - put out records with shemale pornography in the liner notes, prompting record stores to stock their albums behind the counter like brown paper bag contraband. They've sold dildos with their name on them. They've released four self-titled records in the last seven years. The Oath consists of former members of bands like Charles Bronson (who tastemakers have soured on despite the fact that their microburst songs were better than 90% of their contemporaries) and Devoid of Faith (all I really remember is that they sounded like Bastard; sorry). These are the things that matter in hardcore: controversies, ex-members of, and records you can collect and trade with your friends.
Okay, that last part is an exaggeration; that's not what I really think. But plenty of cynics do, maybe even including some of the guys in The Oath. The band they're maybe most comparable to is Some Girls. It pains me to say so, because I hate Some Girls and I like The Oath a lot. But both bands play a hysterically fast, smudgy take on hardcore, and they both exude an enormous weariness with punk's limited dimensions and often-rote articles of faith. But Some Girls' records are surprisingly boring considering how avant-garde they imagine themselves to be, while The Oath have actually honed their craft formidably since forming.
What distinguishes The Oath's best material, to me, are usually the guitar parts. This isn't that surprising, I guess: since hardcore tends to eschew vocal melody, it's usually up to the guitarist to provide some kind of hook for you to hang your hat on. And that's what is surprising about The Oath: some of these tunes are as anthemic as Bane, or Champion, or whatever other bands some folks might point to as reliably fist pumping and energizing - bands that might horrify The Oath. A lot of the guitar parts mystify; they sound like riffs you know and love that have been turned inside out and soldered back together like some kind of mosh Frankenstein.
That's not to dismiss the other guys in the band. The rhythm section is appropriately out of control. They're not exactly sloppy or anything, but they don't sound like robots either. And that's good, because if I wanted to hear that I could listen to Kraftwerk or some other purposefully androidal music. And nefarious mouthpiece Mark McCoy screams his opaque lyrics in an appropriately ireful tone. The lyrics themselves are decidedly vague, so they might not really be about anything, or they might be so overflowing with disappointment and despair that they can only be rendered in the broadest of strokes to prevent the listener from losing hope entirely. (Devoid of Faith reference wisely eschewed here.)
But The Oath has made better records than this. The benchmark is their 2004 Dim Mak LP, also a self-titled, because it marries their barely-held-in-check frenzy to the most memorable songs they've written. This particular record is a little less immediate, but it still has its moments of weird majesty (although relatively few of them, since this record is only about ten minutes long). It's a little blurrier, a little more mysterious. The artwork was provided by some apparently famous photographer (not someone that I recognized myself), which is a change from surreptitiously appropriating work by Diane Arbus or Robert Frank, as hardcore bands have done in the past. I'm not sure it's a change for the better though, really.
So how to settle the foundational question that any popular media criticism has to face - is it worth your money? If, like me, you're fascinated by what The Oath has been working at over the last several years - not just the shemales and dildos but the actual music, too - then I think so. If not, this probably isn't the record to convert you (try that other LP I mentioned in the last paragraph). But if current trends continue, they'll no doubt release another one soon enough, probably also bearing no title other than "Das Oath" and we can come back and re-evaluate our findings here.