Oh Sees are their own creature entirely. With each album release it seems more as though a tear in our reality has appeared and they briefly seep through to our realm. They are a group that release music in a way that a manic science fiction writer releases book after book without a care for the audience it finds. Smote Reverser is a chapter which suggests the apocalypse is nigh, or at least it does by its cover. Something appropriately coincidental, perhaps.
From the off, Smote Reverser comes off twisted. ‘Sentient Oona’ sets the appropriate tone to open an album like Smote Reverser, this time around collaborator Tom Dolas adding keys tino the mix. Cracking open fresh keys and the album sounds like a doom-obsessed prog record. The real champion of Smote Reverser is the double drumming which has been a staple of the Oh Sees’ sound for a fair while now.
The band have formed and shifted through many states. What will strike you immediately about Smote Reverser is its initial cover art and single ‘Overthrown’. The single is the more frenzied side of the band stretched to the absolute limit. This might give you the impression that the entirety of Smote Reverser would be absolute carnage to listen to. It’s actually much softer.
John Dwyer’s voice has always been a unique part of Oh Sees. It often sounds like some dark, wizardly enchantment. Smote Reverser goes a different way. Whilst the John we’re familiar with is there, now he clips the mic in most songs. Often resulting in brilliantly effective, albeit incomprehensible, vocals at certain points.
When you’re a group like Oh Sees; 20 albums in and on a crusade to stretch and find new sounds, there are going to be moments which feel like less of a triumph. Smote Reverser is a very interesting idea and concept for the band, however, the album feels somewhat baggy. For all that’s great about the record, it’s full of long winded jam tracks which make the overall album experience feel very long, detracting from the moments where it’s great. It’s an album in need of some fat trimming so the best aspects of it shine through.
Oh Sees deserve their reputation of being one of the best live bands around at the moment. What doesn’t work on Smote Reverser will easily work on stage. As a record, it tries to contain the mayhem that the band produce live. Sadly, this can’t be quantified.
Ultimately, though, Smote Reverser is Oh Sees expanding themselves further. There’s plenty of experimentation within the album. ‘C’ feels like it could easily be an Oh Sees staple. A more focussed Smote Reverser would have the potential to be exceptional. However, for a band that are so far into their career and keep pushing and pushing themselves further, a small slip is easily forgotten. Smote Reverser is an album peppered with potential classics but in the end gives more of the same. Something new is awakening in the band.