The Fool – Vinyl // CD // DD
Holy Roar Records – March 31st 2017
Reviewed by Andy “Dingman” Beresky
I’d never heard of OHHMS prior to Taste Nation owner Matthew Thomas fast-tracking a copy of their debut album into my grubby little hands one fateful afternoon. He told me it was one of the better releases he’d heard this year, and I’d tend to agree. It’s quite ambitious and unique for a debut, though it’s worth noting that the band already has two EP’s under their belt. This Kent UK four piece formed in 2014 and has been going strong since, as evidenced by the remarkable collection of sounds that they’ve managed to mangle together on The Fool. They market themselves as a “doom” band, though once again, don’t believe the hype. They’ve got some doomy parts, and there’s a whole mess of other styles thrown into the proverbial blender as well. I know that doom is hip and all with the kids these days, though it may befit OHHMS to come up with a stylistic description that’s more in line with their complex sound.
I’m often critical of occultism in music, as it’s usually mindless and shallow, just kind of tucked into the fold for coolness’s sake and little else, or adopted for image and/or artistic purposes. In metal circles, the appropriation of the occult is usually poorly understood. Take Ronnie Jame Dio for example. I’m not one to speak ill of the dead, and the influence of his life and music are undeniable, but let’s get real here. The dude did not “invent” throwing the horns. I’ve heard this from many metalheads, and it shows a real lack of understanding. Firstly, Coven did it well before him, and Dio openly admitted that he didn’t think that he was the first to use it, contending instead that he had popularized it. Secondly, it goes back to a Thelemic tradition (among other traditions as well), the usage of the Hand Of Glory in ritual magic, which was often the severed hand of a dead person, with the fingers set in that posture. Thirdly, it actually bothers me when I see a room full of people throwing the horns, as I’m usually pretty certain that not one of them even understands the most basic Satanic symbolism of the gesture: it denies the Three (the Holy Trinity) and affirms the Two (figure that part out for yourself). It’s had other meanings and usages in other cultures, though that’s a book unto itself and I’ve gone on enough of a tangent for today.
The point I was attempting to make was that metal’s ongoing flirtation with the occult is a largely superficial one that rarely leads to any real relationship. OHHMS have actually done a pretty stellar job of incorporating a magical concept into their music, namely the Tarot. After the brief acoustic intro, appropriately titled “Shuffle, Cut and Reveal”, the next five songs are all named after a card from the Tarot deck. The Fool itself is of course the most complicated of the Tarot trump cards, as evidenced by Aleister Crowley’s treatise of the subject in The Book Of Thoth. While the other trump cards get a page or two explanation of their meaning and symbolism, Crowley devotes a full chapter, 24 pages to The Fool. Once again, I’m not going to get into it here, read the book. No more tangents! What’s impressive is that OHHMS turn each of the cards in their spread into a political allegory, which is a damned clever concept if I do say so myself. There’s a definite punk/hardcore element to the band’s lyrics and overall energy, an existential angst and ardent challenge in the face of societal norms, and that buffers out the sterility often found in technical/progressive metal. OHHMS’ progressive strengths lie more in their ability to transcend genre than to dazzle us with mere technique.
I mentioned earlier that I really don’t think that they’re doing themselves any favors by marketing themselves as a doom band. I guess it’s as good a starting point as any, and gives some description of their music, as they have some pretty slow, vicious riffs at times. It’s just that there’s so much going on within the course of one song: from slow, lush, ambient sections, to floating shoegaze influenced transcendental passages, to parts culled right from the post-metal playbook, to more harsh, chaotic, abrasive sections. I like a band that covers a lot of ground, that makes me feel like I’m taking a voyage when I listen to their songs or albums. Well, with OHHMS, it’s the whole freakin’ Iliad and Odyssey. They exemplify this little pet concept of mine; no matter where a song starts, there’s no telling where it’s going to end up, or where OHHMS will switch gears, varying the tempo, dynamics, or overall vibe of a song. There’s no better place that they illustrate this approach than on the albums 22 minute epic closer, “The Hierophant.”
The six songs, counting the aforementioned intro, clock in at just around an hour, and you’d better believe that extended tracks like “The Hanged Man” and “The Hierophant” gives these sonic adventurers plenty of room to explore the outer and inner depths of their musical psyches. Even witin the context of the album’s shorter songs, “The Magician”, “The World” and “The Lovers”, they find plenty of room to meander and experiment. None of the songs sound all that much alike – it’s obvious that it’s the same band playing, though the sonic writing, textures and riffs vary widely and show vast differences from song to song. “The Lovers” in particular stands out, with its more mellow tone of longing and desire, punctuated by the usage of female vocals and the same immediacy that accompanies all the other tracks. “The World” is the shortest track and perhaps the most punk influenced, still finds plenty of time to wander into different stylistic realms.
Speaking of influences, I usually like to name drop some bands in that department, though that’s going to be pretty tough in this case. Sections remind me of Unearthly Trance’s unholy union of doom, black metal, and hardcore, though even that comparison falls well short when you factor in the just all the ground OHHMS trample over within the full campaign of the album. It’s worth noting that I also would consider Unearthly Trance a band that deals with occult themes in a very deep and meaningful manner, so maybe I’m not that far off after all. Regardless of what you want to call it, this is one of the better debuts that I’ve heard in recent years, just really next level shit, and it’s one of the best albums I’ve heard so far in 2017. There ability to craft a concept album that has such a far reaching scope and yet distills the essential ethos of their music in form, lyric and aesthetic is an astounding accomplishment for such a young band. Take that for what you will, and run with it. I already can’t wait to see what these cats come up with next….