The more I hear music that makes me stop and pay attention, the happier I am. I know we’ve been over this ad nauseam, but being a writer who is inundated with releases on a daily basis, getting music to grab you is by no means automatic. In fact, it often falls into that “pleasant surprise” category.
Spending some time with “The Camel, The Lion, The Child” by He Whose Ox Is Gored was one of those experiences for me. That didn’t come as a surprise, really. So maybe I’m undoing my opening. Anyhow, poring through these eight tracks that spill over about an hour was a true pleasure, an experience with heavy music that will not be matched by any other band this year. That is so refreshing. I love a lot of the music I hear each week, hence even having this site, but this is one of those that made me think less like a critic and more like a person who enjoys music and a colorful journey. This record packs that, mixing death, doom, prog, and post-metal seamlessly and promising anyone who encounters it that they’re not in for the run-of-the-mill, hear-it-and-it’s-done release. You’ll come back, and when you do, you’ll notice plenty of things you didn’t the first time. Or the second. Or the third. Come to think of it, this can be a theme for this week’s writings, because the offerings are rich for this kind of thing.
He Whose Ox Is Gored hail from Seattle and boast one of those lineups that is not nearly as large as the expansive music hints it should be. Brian McClelland handles guitars and vocals; Lisa Mungo is on synth and vocals; Mike Sparks provides bass and vocals; while John O’Connell is behind the kit. They make a damn huge sound, the four of them, one that weaves in and out of peaks and valleys, coming off as something you can’t quite pinpoint. The band has been together since 2009, releasing their first EP “Op Amps” a year later and following that up with “Op Amps II: Into the Ether,” produced by Tad Doyle. Their “Nightshade” EP arrived after that, with their “Rumors” 7” coming out last year, paving the way for this gargantuan new full-length. Now you’re caught up.
“Oathbreaker” is your first taste of the record, combining spacey oddness with proggy riffs and rushing keys that churn and develop a nice, cool atmosphere. A quick burst of growls are the only words you hear, and then we head into “Omega.” This punchy, synth-swept piece starts paving its path, leading toward aggressiveness and crunch. By the way, speaking of the keys, they play a major role on this album. They provide texture, lush air, and a cosmic spirit that are crucial to making these songs what they are. Really nice touch. Anyhow, the back end of the song reminds a bit of Cult of Luna, as the throaty yells and exploratory riffs push their way and bleed into “Crusade.” The keys rise to the surface, while the song gets heavier and more aggressive, with singing and howls meeting up with wrenching growls. The pace calms, with strange keyboard woven in and Mungo singing, feeling something like a warped Yes song. This leads into “Zalatype” that has a carefully paced introduction, keys whirring, and the song opening up, with the vocals advising, “Raise the all-knowing eye!” The final moments are both heavy and gothically inspired, blasting its way to the finish.
“Alpha” swims in sounds at the start, with clean guitars trickling in and washed-out vocals that give the song an alien feel. Later the track blows up, as harsh growls rip into the scene, and prog-fueled riffs churn and spiral. Riffs erupt from “Magazina” right from the start, with howled vocals, synth bleeding heavily, and the playing getting tricky and crazed, making your mind spin and your body ache. It’s one of the most aggressive songs on the record, and gives you a good rumbling before the first of two epics, the 7:16 “Cairo.” The track slowly comes to life, with keys glimmering and creating an imaginative setting before the song blasts open, playing and toying with tempos and your mind. The tempo does a lot of switching back and forth, from flowing calm paths to volcanic highs, all the while building layers impossible to dig through to the bottom. The final moments go cold, as a sense of calm returns and slowly fades. The 9:12 finale “Weighted By Guilt, Crushed Into a Diamond” (and who can’t relate to that title?) has guitars dripping in, murky synth creating a haze, and Mungo’s moody vocals pushing the way, making you feel every ounce of the struggle. That cloudiness doesn’t last forever, as a lightning bolt of sound jolts the thing, with vocals turn to wild howls, and you feel like you’re being rolled over and over into mud and glass. While there are passages of serenity, most of the song’s final minutes are pounding and penetrating, with growls whipping at you and the sounds burning to the finish line.
He Whose Ox Is Gored not only have put together a great record with “The Camel, The Lion, The Child,” they’ve created something that truly stands out in a sea of albums released this year. There is heaviness, serenity, wildness, and restraint, and it’s an album that never feels the same way twice. Hopefully this record will open more people’s eyes to this band and swell their following.
For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/hewhoseoxisgoredseattle
To buy the album, go here: http://bleedinglightrecords.bigcartel.com/artist/he-whose-ox-is-gored
For more on the label, go here: https://www.facebook.com/bleedinglightrecords