Omotai, Fresh Hell
Rarely have I seen an album title as apt as Omotai’s Fresh Hell; and no, not because it’s bad by any stretch of the imagination, but because of the images of menace and dread it conjures up. There’s a weird sense of foreboding you get while listening, like something truly, ineffably horrible is waiting for you, just around the next corner, and it’s going to get you no matter what you do. It’s your destiny, inescapable.
Not only that, but it nicely signifies the trio’s continuing move away from their initial doom-sludge-metal roots and into a wholly different realm. They began the shift on 2012’s Terrestrial Grief, stepping off their previously-tread path of full-on doom-iness to morph into something that’s a whole lot closer to the post-punk realm than anything else.
My first thought, actually, upon hearing the more intricate, thoughtful, almost spacey parts on Fresh Hell, was that Omotai seemed to be veering somewhat over in the direction of bassist/vocalist Melissa Lonchambon Ryan’s old band, Sharks and Sailors; like this “new” Omotai, S&S also took heavy, thundering guitar-rock and melted it down, bending and crafting it into something more twisty and sharp-edged.
As I listened, though, I realized that my initial comparison wasn’t strictly accurate. It’s not that Omotai’s started sounding like Sharks and Sailors, but rather that the two very distinct outfits are/were influenced by some of the same things — specifically, by noisy, prog-tinged post-punk folks like Neurosis and by the more brainy members of the ’90s math-rock crew, like The For Carnation and Don Caballero.
Not that they’ve moved away from the heavy, crush-you-to-the-floor stuff, naturally. “Get Your Dead Straight” is sludgy as hell and so goddamn bassy I couldn’t even really hear it properly on my car stereo ’til I turned on the “ultra bass” mode…at which point my chest caved in (don’t worry, I’m okay now). “Throats of Snakes” is similarly doom-y, but with a proggy twitch to it that brings to mind the twisting, bending-upon-itself guitar work of Mastodon or Kylesa.
Then there’s “Back Office” — it’s a serious left turn for these folks, a screaming, speeding chunk of head-snapping hardcore with some awesomely thrashy guitar, insanely fast rhythms, and Barkmarket-ish bass. Just when you think you know where it’s going, though, it suddenly shifts gears, mutating into something closely resembling spacerock, with a moody, post-punk instrumental vibe to it all.
From there Lonchambon Ryan, drummer/vocalist Anthony Vallejo, and guitarist/vocalist Sam Waters (they’ve since become a foursome, adding new member Jamie Ross) roll through tracks like “Giant Pygmy,” which is seriously Jesus Lizard-like, more noise than metal and collapsing at the end into a messy, scraping, half-psych squall, or “Laser Addict,” which uses this weird phaser effect that makes me actually feel physically woozy (and like it, obviously).
They end up with “We Don’t Have To Be Strangers,” which is twisty and mind-bending, all quasi-dissonant guitars and stutter-stop rhythms that I can’t help but foot-drum along to. Sometimes the music is thoughtful and serene, and sometimes it’s raw and brutal, and you never know what’s coming next.
Throughout the whole of Fresh Hell, Omotai straddle that line, and they do it with a wild-eyed kind of surety, telling you in no uncertain terms that they know what the fuck they’re doing, and you can either grab hold and ride with them or be crushed into dust beneath. Me? I’ll choose the former, in a heartbeat.