Oh Sees – Smote Reverser
Oh Sees' Smote Reverser is sprawling, magnificent, dangerous and fantastical; like so many great pieces of work it leaves you wanting more
The spectacular glowing monster looming above an orgy of fiery destruction on the cover of Smote Reverser looks like it erupted from the spirit visions of the late great elven king Ronnie James Dio himself. Sprawling, magnificent, dangerous and fantastical; this beast is – however extraordinary – an apt representation of the 11-song extravaganza it adorns here.
The twenty-first album to come from John Dwyer's ever-evolving, ever-prolific San Franciscan noise wizards Oh Sees (and all associated spellings), Smote Reverser sees the return of key member Bridgid Dawson following her and Dwyer's OCS collaboration Memory of a Cut Off Head last year. Dawson joins bassist Tim Hellman, 'key stabber' Tomas Dolas and the dynamic drum duo of Paul Quattrone and Dan Rincon whose tense, stalking tom-work brings the album to life with opener Sentient Oona. Dropping in with little ceremony or fanfare, we join the pack mid-hunt for a tense, stalking gallop, like we're picking up the plot right before the action starts.
Intermittent growls and roars pepper Dwyer's smooth, milky vocals and hint at ensuing loudness before we're launched into a skyward spiral of typically ambitious guitar theatrics, ushering in a soaring symphonic swell of crackling, earsplitting energy. The whole front end of the record is a tireless cavalcade of psychedelic prog rock pyrotechnics, striking white hot through the funky grooves of Enrique El Cobrador and the buoyant glam rock shuffle of C, before Overthrown sees the group hit full beast mode. Dialing every pedal, knob and fader into the red until it breaks, the song seems hellbent on flat-out fuzzing itself to death as it builds an unlikely bridge between the chaotic pomp of Yes and the dirty, pounding heaviness of Motörhead.
Last Peace, one of the most enjoyable entries here, calms the preceding chaos a little with its slowburning slint-esque intro – all glassy, languid and groovy – before kicking out its own jams as it peaks. However, it still acts as a fitting segue into Moon Bog, which marks a further change in pace, and is pretty much the tonal opposite of everything that comes before it. Dark, slow and melancholy, it works in the context of the album as a linear journey but is perhaps the weakest standalone entry here.
The 12 minute-long Anthemic Aggressor will likely test listeners' patience in a completely different way altogether by taking all of the maximum dynamics experienced so far and pushing them further, longer, higher and harder – but mostly longer. Too long in fact. In terms of technical skill, it's incredibly impressive, but its indulgence and heft, while welcome in supervised doses, pushes hard at the boundaries of welcome wankery. It's kind of like the musical equivalent of that scene in the movie Matilda where a little boy has to eat a whole giant chocolate cake in front of his class as punishment. To be fair, that's not to say this is trash by any means – it really isn't – it's just going to be a hell of a lot to keep down if you've got a low tolerance for heavy prog.
In keeping with this momentum, the road to the end begins with the disgustingly barbarous riff of Abysmal Urn, sounding like the brick-crushing stomps of the album's twisted, horny mascot. It's the last blast of its kind, however, as the final third levels out into a more relaxed and confident half-time groove which is carried on right through to closer, Beat Quest – an organ-drenched psych gem so unashamedly sixties-obsessed you'd swear it was filtered through a Paisley-patterned shirt. It offers a much more subdued end than expected from the rest of the album's frantically-moving parts, but like so many great pieces of work, it still leaves you wanting more. Which, by the band's already impeccably prolific standards, shouldn't take too long at all.
Listen to: Last Peace