Expect to see this obstreperous Ohhms offering feature in plenty of 2017 ‘best of’ lists. It will certainly feature prominently in mine. In the few years they’ve been with us this fearsome Kent five-piece have firmly established themselves as one of the most compelling acts of the UK’s extreme underground scene.
Having introduced themselves to the world with a couple of jaw-dropping EPs, The Fool is their eagerly anticipated debut full length release. Based around a Tarot Card theme – and with a lucky dip of three cards included with every album sold – The Fool lives up to its bewitching billing from start to finish.
A gentle acoustic guitar passage helps to push open the door on this invigorating and inspired piece of work which fully stamps its authority and command with ‘The Magician’ as assuredly as had it placed its size 12’s on your neck while pinning you to the floor.
At times this is brutal stuff with the remarkable frontman Paul Waller raging like an out of control psychopath one minute before finding other passages to explore with a spine-tingling level of honesty and fragility. That’s certainly the case with ‘The Magician’ which at times has the visceral dexterity of a bunch of fives to your jaw and then a minute or so later it wraps its warm grooves around you like a sultry temptress.
Ohhms don’t particularly sit within any of the myriad of boundaries that loosely make-up the metal family. Scarcely metal at all really and while doom often captures the mood it hardly relates to some of the more impassioned and energetic outbursts. Still, such matters are unlikely to keep Waller and his band of not so merry men awake at night so we won’t let it perturb us too much either.
‘The Hanged Man’ will focus your mind in other directions as it goes on an explorative 13-minute journey deep into your psyche during which Ohhms obliterate much of musical convention by coming up with a treasure chest of inspired aural cuts that are almost blinding in their brilliance. From Waller’s opening wretched vocal volley, ‘I walked in, I walked out’ you’re gripped as assuredly as if caught in the headlights of the latest HBO blockbuster boxset. You’re scared too blink or move in case you miss one of the acutely chiselled edges as the Ohhms symphonic ranks rise around Waller’s desperate cries that wreak of pain and penitence.
Ohhms are able to wind things down at times almost as though the wheels are about to escape their axels but at the perfectly prescribed moment they click back into gear unleashing an explosion of stop-start riffs. On ‘The Hangman’ this shows itself through a second phase of the song in which the lines become thicker and more crushing as the whole aural headspin borders on collapse until another cavernous cut infiltrates the melee to stabilise things as Ohhms again forge forward with dynamic lines driven with reckless abandon. The climax is as satisfying as you could hope for, as the levels are racketed up towards fever pitch.
Ohhms are not your average band and Waller is certainly far from an average singer. Such is the passion, guts and sheer heart-pouring of energy expunged that at times you almost fear for his wellbeing. With a lifelong love of the original anarcho punk scene, this album captures something of that breathless rapid fire energy first experienced with the likes of Crass and Conflict, and the deeper you probe the more nuances come to the surface.
While ‘The World’ is half the duration of ‘The Hang Man’ it is no less rewarding with Waller actually opening things up here with as near as he gets to clean singing before a seismic thunderclap triggers a passage of punishing self-flagellation, Waller starts to slowly up the ante until his full power wrestles for supremacy alongside an expansive riff that warms up quicker than a bowl of porridge, increasing in tempo until it seems the only way out is for an almighty explosion. In fact Ohhms apply the handbrake with the precision of a getaway driver on a bank heist but this heroic track rushes towards a stupefying finale with a cacophonous melody that would make you rich if you could only bottle it.
‘Lovers’ is appropriately enough a softer kind of song altogether and shows that Ohhms are capable of moving and extending themselves into a direction that not may initially appear there’s to explore. A gentle guitar rhythm leads us into this penultimate piece and when the vocals arrive over a scarcely detectable groove it’s as though Waller has taken on a whole new persona as haunting harmonies are allowed to develop alongside guest female vocalist Sienna Holihan.
Ohhms’ original EPs were massive in sound and length and they return to that with epic closer ‘The Hierophant’ which easily breaks through the 20-minute mark, the first several of which are filled with a suffocating drone that could be used to clear minds on a meditation session. As ethereal lines to start swim slowly together Waller’s usual raging tones are reduced to a more humbling prose, slowly speaking over a debilitating drone that gradually takes on a more aggressive edge with some razored guitar work cutting through the murkiness. Eventually the song opens up, Max Newton laying down a steady drumbeat in contrast to his usual smash and grab assaults. The song delves into the dark recesses of humanity and the bleak corners where that can sometimes lead us all to.
But while the subject matter is invariably bleak this album is a massively uplifting listen. There is nothing throwaway or indispensable about The Fool. It’s every step is one you will want to share with them. While the laying out of your three free tarot cards may well shed light on what the future holds for you, no-one needs to resort to such medieval mysticism to plot the path of Ohhms. Their trajectory is firmly on the upwards curve.