Oh Sees: Smote Reverser (2018) – Album Review

Released on August 17th, Smote Reverser, is the twenty-first studio album from rock group, Oh Sees  (or whatever they call themselves now). This previous summer, I began listening to their music, and enjoyed it quite a lot. Their unique music changes up every album, making them very diverse in genre and style. This particular album’s cover art, name, and singles all hinted at a potential metal album, causing me to be increasingly curious about this particular release.

The first couple of tracks are great at gently guiding you in to what this album is. The first, “Sentient Oona,” begins with pretty slow, low-energy drum beat, but the song gives off an aura of despair with its hushed vocals and underplayed bass line. However, once a minute or so passes, the guitars come in and really start to bring energy into the song. This continues, with a little bit of “Loud, soft, loud” alternation, until it ends on a pretty sweet guitar lick.

The second track, “Enrique El Cobrador,” juxtaposes this a little bit, in terms of its structure, but stylistically is similar. Opening up with rough guitars, and aggressive vocals, this song overtly shows off its evil side, before diverting to John Dwyer’s more laid back, funky keyboard and guitar riffs. This once again goes back and forth and kind of shows both sides of Oh Sees in this song.

The third and fourth tracks on this album, “C,” and “Overthrown” are really the reason why I was first intrigued by this album. “C” sounds like if someone tried to take “Green Onions,” by Booker T and the M.G.s and make it into a metal song? It’s very keyboard driven, with this silky smooth guitar tone, yet it features these rougher guitar solos in between all of this. I really don’t know how they meld these two unique sounds together, but it’s actually really catchy and energetic. Easily one of my favorites featured on the album.

“Overthrown” isn’t at all similar to “C,” but I love it nonetheless. This is the closest they come to sounding like a pure, heavy, heavy metal band. The guitar is speedy and coarse, the drums are tight but driving, and the filter over it just makes it pure, abrasive music. It shouts what this album originally seemed like to me; dark, and angry. They do put their own Oh Sees’ spin on it, with some quieter guitar riffs, but it does have a general feeling of simple aggression that I can’t help but love.

After that, it takes a little bit of a somber break. “Last Peace,” and “Moon Bog” are both a bit softer and slower. The first half of “Last Peace” is filled with some acoustic pieces, and the vocals are a bit droning. But it quickly devolved into this psychedelic, hard rock song with some catchy guitar and bass. The energy is really brought up into becoming a pretty great song.

“Moon Bog” doesn’t have much energy at all, but relies on these sexy, slow bass and guitar lines that just draw me in immediately. It sounds weird, but it makes me feel like I’m in a bog of some kind. It’s just kind of this natural, hinted heaviness that it has, even though it’s this quiet almost ballad-esque track. But I quite enjoy it.

This is the point where it gets a lot worse. I don’t know what it is about bands not knowing how to end albums lately, but like NSP’s ending, the final four or five tracks, overall, aren’t as exciting.

The seventh track, “Anthemic Aggressor,” is twelve minutes that I cannot stand. “Last Peace” is a good example of an instrumental-driven, not incredibly interesting track that Oh Sees seem to do on both this release, and Orc (2017), but it works pretty well. They consistently build, you’re not left there with the same exact thing for too long, and it has some energy. “Anthemic Aggressor,” however, doesn’t do that. They ARE constantly adding new pieces, but none of them stay long enough for me to enjoy them. It’s just kind of this twelve minute journey through psychedelia with them, and while I can respect that, at about the six-minute-mark, when I realized the bass line was the exact same, I kinda wanted it to stop. But it doesn’t. That’s only half of the song. So while I do enjoy the ending (which finishes off with a load of noises that create this energetic, and listenable cacophony), it comes way too late, and at that point I’m just disinterested. It just feels like they decided on one basic bass line, and wanted to throw some weird noises at it for a while. It’s probably good for ambient music, but with its awkward placement in the album, it doesn’t fit.

Not all of these next track are this bad, luckily. Following up that weird mess, “Abysmal Urn” gives us a little more to be excited about. It starts off where the last song left off with its loud, guitar-heavy sound, but then goes back to some of the ominous, hushed vocals we’ve heard before in this album. It features this repetitive, yet kind of catchy series of guitar chords in between verses, but they don’t annoy me too much. Overall, it’s a simple yet enjoyable, not too long song to counteract that last one.

“Needle House Needle Boys” is another one of these tracks with some implied sinistry. However, I don’t see this as having anything in particular that makes it special. It relies on key guitar parts to give it any sort of energy, and the background keyboard isn’t really accomplishing anything either.

“Flies Bump Against the Glass” is almost a guitar feature. The distorted “wah wah” of the guitar is quite good, and well done. I like it, but that’s all it is. There’s no lyrics, no other highlighted instrument or piece really, and it’s just a guitar talking to you for a few minutes. While the different voice the guitar has is welcome, there’s nothing else to spice it up.

Reminding me a lot of their last record I reviewed, “Beat Quest” is an incredibly underwhelming ending to an album that needs the energy. The first half of the song slogs along to the beats of quiet drums, trippy guitar, and a harmony of keyboard chords. Nothing special there. The final few minutes are filled by this bouncy, almost poppy duo of keyboard and guitar; reminiscent of something from a Styx or Yes album. The stylistic and instrumental difference isn’t a huge issue to me, but the subtle, almost happy ending to this doom-filled, haunting, and gloomy project is certainly not fitting or exciting. I don’t understand it, or see why they thought it was a good idea.

This release is very reminiscent of the last I reviewed, Orc. I think people, including myself, saw both this album cover, and heard “Overthrown,” and expected a much heavier, darker album. While the volume may be turned up a bit, and they do feature that one track, I think stylistically and thematically, it’s very similar to their 2017 release. I think they create a much more overtly ominous sound with this release, but many of the things they do here aren’t incredibly different than what they did in Orc. It’s just a bit less subtle.

That all being said, this release is horrible. Each song has that ambiance of imminent doom, but they play around with their instrumentation, and style a lot. While it’s in every song, the guitar tones constantly switch up and catch you off guard. Whether they sound like a groovy 60’s band, or a techno, 70’s stage rock band, their instrumentals are very diverse and creative, without losing the identity of the album. With the exception of “Anthemic Aggressor,” and the final three tracks of the album, I think each song holds its own. For that reason, I’m going to give it a 6/10. I just wish they would’ve had an energetic end for an “metal” album. I was hoping for a metal album, not a metal-themed album.

Hope you enjoyed this review. Check it out on KSDB’s website!

Favorite Track(s): “Overthrown,” “C”

Least Favorite Track(s): “Anthemic Aggressor,” “Beat Quest,” “Needle House Needle Boys”

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