He Whose Ox Is Gored
The Camel, The Lion, The Child

I’ve only had a few tastes of Seattle quartet He Whose Ox is Gored and their rising tide, wall of noise musical inclinations, but every single one has been fuckin’ delicious.  After a few EP releases I find myself hung on the horns of the band’s debut long-player The Camel, The Lion, The Child.  From the very first note it’s obvious that this is a band unafraid of taking chances and risks; soothing the eardrums in one measure with spiraling beauty before puncturing the soft flesh with a sewing needle the next.  These cats would have been right at home in the deep, dank Seattle underworld of the late 80s and early 90s.

“Oathbreaker” opens this eight song set with a distant, high-pitched keyboard signal, acting as a lighthouse intended to lead the listener safely ashore.  No such chance is given when guitarist Brian McClelland runs the crew aground with a doom-y, fathoms deep riff that traverses the waves with a twitchy Am-Rep swiftness.  8-armed octopi drummer John O’Connell will make you seasick with his turbulent battery of crashing fills, brisk polyrhythms and tight turns in the pocket; his constant smashing wrapped up and suffocated tightly by the strongly tentacled low-end grooves of Mike Sparks who does his damndest to make sure this aquatic, mathematical mayhem never falls apart.  A hymnal, psychedelic keyboard hum runs throughout the entire piece and whenever vocals do appear, they are but a scant few lines of acerbic, sandpaper screams which work nicely…  The verbal sparsity acts in the role of another instrument that only heightens the fortified tower of sound that these lunatics project into the atmosphere.

The bass establishes dominance over the guitar during “Omega’s” intro workout, its quaking grumble is deadlocked into place with syncopated, bone dry drumming that places maximum emphasis on the snare.  Vocalist/synth manipulator Lisa Mungo provides a few jarring symphonic swirls, giving the tune an adrenaline shot into the arm while paving the way for the riffage to congeal like a blood clot around the heart.  As the cardio temple of this musical entity enlarges and its arteries clog, vicious shouting vocals take hold and the plunging dirge grooves erupt in an explosion of blood and Neurosisian grandeur.  There are numerous stops n’ starts where texture changes are of the utmost importance…howls of synth, melodic minor-key guitar leads, tribal tom-tom ebbing, doom-y grooves and a general sense of LOUD ambience ala My Bloody Valentine/Killing Joke/Swans really renders this song into something ethereally extraordinary.  It’s like a lost mountain artifact that the Dalai Lama keeps under strict lock and key.

While the vocals are straightforwardly shouted/screamed/yelled throughout, the rabid intensity behind their delivery fits the music to a tee.  As much trippy, mind-altering melody as the band cycles into their aural inner-workings, they can get pretty damn heavy like a cross-pollination of Unsane, early Neurosis, Damad, Today is the Day, Godflesh and Yob.  A clattering, chugging industrial riff echoes of broken factory machinery during “Crusade,” but soon the hallucinatory swelter of catchy, doom-paced guitar-work and a churning, mid-tempo rhythmic grind swings the song into an ascending, oddly uplifting heavy-rock jam.  Lisa Mungo slips in some soaring, nearly chanted clean vocals with her bandmates harmonizing and screaming around her for a whirlpool of sucking sounds that are the equivalent of an audio mushroom trip.  Tasteful keys color in the background and O’Connell spins a web of percussive flash on a decidedly barren, more directly rocked-out canvas.  At times the distortion drops out entirely with somber, melodic guitar licks crafting a lengthy outro sprawl alongside beautiful, heavily echoed/reverbed vocals and tapestries of electronic hypnosis.

That aforementioned outro softness immediately seeps into “Zelatype’s” sweeping, orchestral psychedelia.  Fluid, completely naked bass lines, acoustic guitars, effortlessly rolling beats and dreary synths conjure up an aura that is pure magic and leaves the beholder completely bewildered as to what will come next.  Soon, each instrument rises to “11” with a stormy tempest of pretty doom riffs and world-weary screams cutting a swath through the fray with the rhythm section matching the aggression move for move.  Some of the drumming on this track is purely off-the-cuff jazz, and the band never stays with the same riff for long, instead taking said riff and augmenting it with subtle chord/note changes until the climax.  The electronics are fully featured on this one, bending the mind with an apocalyptic yet sublime drone.  Mungo flexes her impressive vocal muscles for some expressive vocalizations above “Alpha’s” touching instrumental trip-out where every tone is in a gorgeous, crystalized form.  Nightmarish noise squelch haunts the background of this cut but patiently waits until the 3:40 mark to caterwaul into a simultaneously melodic and downright mean churl of deadly accurate noise-rock.  There’s some head-scratching, pure metal riff complexity introduced much later on that blows Mastodon’s last three albums out of the water.

I’m hearing some of Kylesa’s vibe circa To Walk a Middle Course in Mungo’s gruff shouting vocals and the punk-afflicted riff that kicks off “Magazina.”  Things take a darker, American Gothic turn in the vein of Damad thereafter with caustic, canyon wide bass drops, percussion that throbs like human innards and ringing, tonally clean funeral dirge guitar chords, all merging together for a threatening atmosphere that practically polishes a blade on your throat.  Listening to this before bed is guaranteed to induce severe night terrors.  Progressive riffing utilizes a multitude of doom-ridden swerves and manic chord changes but stays dark n’ heavy as fuck even when the melodies look to lighter strings to get their point across…  Quite frankly, this is the best song on the album and despite my comparisons, I can’t think of anybody that sounds like this.  “Cairo” begins as a wind-whipped, desert drone shimmering like water in an oasis with soothing, parch-relieving guitar/key trade-offs becoming as valuable of a commodity as water is in the Sahara.  Restraint is practiced, mastered and thusly steamrolled by a Sabbath via Godflesh riff (think Hymns) that pushes the song off a cliff to be impaled right through the gut on the jagged rocks below.  While the experimentalism that has me raving about the band is all over this track (plenty of keys, stark tempo changes, taut rhythms, ever-changing dynamics), this is without a doubt the riffiest motherfucker in their arsenal.  Although I’m out of words, He Whose Ox is Gored is hardly out of ammo when closer “Weighted by Guilt, Crushed into a Diamond” comes along.  It encompasses everything I’ve described above and everything that I love about this record.  So, don’t let this short farewell fool you…this tune has enough psychedelic smoothness and ungodly riffing might that you’ll be hanging on for the duration of its 9+ minutes of running time.

Man, what a fuckin’ album is all I have to say.  The Camel, The Lion, The Child is an original, innovative, sensually fucked up piece of work.  Comparisons are kind of lost on this one, because everything here feels fresh and unique.  Sure there are influences and points of references, but these cats are their own damn thing and obviously don’t give a fuck about what sounds popular in the underground.  Despite their captivating tranquility, He Whose Ox is Gored is fucking HEAVY.  Some of the dynamic shifts on this album could crack a tectonic plate in half.  It’s a guarantee that this album will be on my “year’s best” list and I’ll be damn sure buying a copy as soon as I can.

[Visit the band's website]
Written by Jay S
November 24th, 2015

Comments

  1. Commented by: bast

    This one has a lot going on and those keyboards are fantastic. I have yet to fully grasp it.


  2. Commented by: Jay

    That’s for sure. There’s a lot to digest here and even a week of dedicated listening to prep for this review and there’s still much more to discover. That’s the mark of a great album and this one really is in my opinion. I can’t think of anybody that sounds exactly like this band and that’s a good thing. Thanks for the comment!


  3. Commented by: Luke_22

    Been meaning to check this out. Thanks for the reminder. Great review btw.


  4. Commented by: xrefused

    This is really a fucking awesome album,I’m happy I didn’t judge this band by their name. There is something about Seattle and off kilter not-quite metal agressive music that goes together like chocolate and peanut butter. These guys keep that tradition alive nicely.


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