if all of us could be so lucky as to sustain a career long enough to have a defining moment, a seminal work that, long after we've hung up our instruments (be they actual instruments, surgical tools, what have you) people remember with almost legendary tone. It'd be the one thing that would survive us, after all, and it had better be good. We often point to the albums in the middle of a career, where we can point fingers and say that Band X has finally "gotten it." But what happens when you're already hitting that mark, and you're only one full length into your run? He Whose Ox Is Gored, another in a line of tremendous Seattle exports, seem to be burdened with an abundance of greatness, oh so soon. On this, their debut album, a space where most bands look to simply leave a scratch on the surface, they're making a dent. The Camel, The Lion, The Child is a complete album, front to back, and it speaks volumes about the band, the plan, and the work that went in to bringing it to the masses.
If the intent of an opening track is to provide an unmistakable hook, Oathbreaker does that beyond the shadow of a doubt. It highlights, very early on, not only the quality of the songwriting, but how finely tuned and polished this band is in a studio setting.Not only are they adept at writing the catchy, ear grabbing riff, but the arrangement left to right, and front to back, plays an integral part in how the music is heard. There are regular nods to the sludge aesthetic, yet you'll often find a band that is keeping a runaway train from going off the rails. A significant and omnipresent synth element can take much of the credit for that, as it acts as a binder. It isn't that it softens the message though, as the idea of being caught between "the pistol and the liquor bottle," as spouted on Omega, is anything but. That vocal, not only in speech but in sound, is the occasional raw element the album needs to be successful, and it captures it so flawlessly.
It's worth more than noting, this is album full of distinct and well-charted lateral movements, whether in the form of a stripped down break in the otherwise spacey Crusade, or the largely melodic Zelatype. But when the time comes to remove any and all shackles, as you'll find just short of the five minute mark in the latter, He Whose Ox Is Gored shine. It's as though they've found a comfortable home in the thick red line between art rock and sludge metal, and have chosen to explore every inch of real estate. But there is a common sonic theme that every track on the album shares: this no minimalist approach to music. You're treated at all times to numerous layers, built atop one another to create something that casts a fairly long shadow. It can border on obscene how big this record truly sounds, which means another nod to the entire production team, from recording to mastering. One listen to the second half of Cairo will have you wanting to hand out award statues.
We often spend a lot of time waiting for a band to deliver a signature performance, one that will come to define them for the entire span of their career. For bands that we've followed for long periods of time, every new album gets that first cursory listen, trying to find what it is we can identify with what we know of past works. Luckily for He Whose Ox Is Gored, past listenership isn't inclined to matter here. They've given you an album that is, on it's own, a memorable and varied foray into the fabled "space between." But within the confines of the album, they've also delivered not one, but a complete setlist of songs that you can look back on and say, with no hesitation, "this is the one." It poses an interesting and rare question, though. When your favorite song changes with each listen, can any one of them stand alone as actually being your favorite? It makes the album take precedent over the pieces. Near as I can tell, that's a good problem to have.
Bandcamp - https://hewhoseoxisgored.bandcamp.com/