Review Summary: I dug this bed, I'll lay down my head.Bloodied / Unbowed
might be the most direct testament to context impacting music I’ve heard out of the core scene in a very
long time. It’s one thing to add a third player to a game of drunk Uno but it is a completely different story when Ol’ Bill is vanished into the rapture while the four of you are (were？) breaking your backs hauling a Bösendorfer 280VC concert grand piano down a staircase. Not only are you left to pay several thousand in damages (and chiropractor fees), but you also have to deal with the dread that “I don’t know Phil, maybe we shouldn’t be operating a furniture removal company whilst unequally yoked across the berth of our beliefs”. For the first time in the band’s history, Texan metalcore quintuplet Oh, Sleeper, are a three man group. Micah Kinard our resident screams man. Shane Blay’s adept appendages leading the fretboard charge. Zac Mayfield doing the drum thing. And that’s it. That is it
. While bands like Bolzer or Bell Witch have proven the capability of duos, and plenty of guitarists in more atmospheric sects of the metal world have forgone a rhythmic backup ax wielder, the fullness of sound offered up by an extra set of strings in a genre as precise and momentary as metalcore really causes this new album to feel like a weight has been lifted, and the band have floated off into outer space.
In less uncertain terms, Bloodied / Unbowed
is a remarkably empty sounding record a lot of the time. There’s no studio trickery here; the album has clearly been written with a smaller performing live act in mind. And while this record might have a lot of the best riffing Blay has ever concocted, it is difficult to fully appreciate given the insane cost. You like guitar leads？ I know I do. They aren’t completely absent by any stretch but there’s such minimal interplay between leads and rhythm passages that you could probably attribute 99% of any segments with multiple guitars going at once to harmoniser pedals and the odd sample or delay. The fact so many riffs in this record are so damn good almost
covers up the discrepancy, but pretty much every time a riff isn’t moving at 200mph, it sounds like a hollow waste of space. The fact the record opens with a prime offender is no great help; “Let It Wave” jumps onto the scene with a The Last Word Is Yours To Speak
swagger and none of the bite. It is low fret monophony penned by a band known for guitar parts that bleed over each other near constantly. When the track picks up steam and Mayfield starts blitzing the kit, its smiles all round. Unfortunately, the song is primed around anything but these momentary bursts in aggression, and while that isn’t the case for the entire record, more than enough of Bloodied / Unbowed
feels blatantly authoritarian in a two-party system that it grinds on the gears.
The fact the band reformed with Kinard somewhat crawling back to Blay’s door feeling listless and wanting might have a lot to say about the absurd prevalence of unnecessary clean sections in this album. Blay’s performance on “Decimation & Burial” was a shockingly acute reminder of why I’m not particularly fond of nu metal these days (a right shame too given the rest of the song is mighty fine). If the first two minutes of “Two Ships” were axed from the album completely, this would be a stronger record. “The Summit” is a top 200 country ballad masquerading as a moment’s reprieve on a metalcore album with no payoff and enough blues pentatonic runs to deter anyone who doesn’t like top 200 country ballads. Do tracks like “Pulse over Throne” or “Oxygen” really need
gang vocals？ I apologise if you thought this was a rhetorical question; they most certainly do not. A lot of the vocal decisions seem to age the album quite drastically, and this is sad to see considering how fresh and unique the trademark Oh, Sleeper riffing style still sounds even in 2019. There’s certainly been adoption of increasingly more current production techniques as the years have gone on but when Blay & Co. aren’t sidelining tracks with unforeseen gang vocal choruses, everything is Oh, Sleeper as we know it (albeit a man or two short).
Not all is gangly and/or leadless, however, and while I contradict myself by extolling the virtues of “The Island” with its leadless verses and Blay-driven clean-sung chorus, the song has a constant sense of forward momentum. Even when it gets down and dirty for a breakdown just past the midway point, a few melodic paradiddles dotting the end of each chugga chug prevent it from sounding stale. The chorus itself features some lovely vocal harmonising and some subtle leads to bring the package together. And yet (we 180 for the second time in this paragraph)! I wish there were more leads. A more tangible sense of atmosphere. When you backtrack through the band’s catalogue, you find dozens of songs like “Endseekers”; tracks that manage to link passages together coherently because of elements like memorable and constant leads. When Blay starts singing arguably the most sacrilegious chorus of his life in “Fissure”, you just have to accept that this is now the world you live in. No one foresaw it, and nothing about it matches anything else that happens in the song barring an oddly placed screamed word passage right before the last chorus. My dumb brain receives no reincorporation dopamine rush! Motifs are so 2011!
I guess the rock in this Parable of the Wise and Foolish Builders would have to be Zac Mayfield behind the kit. Given the aforementioned monophonic nature of a lot of the passages in this album, increased attention is drawn to whatever he happens to be doing at the time and nine times out of ten that’s pummelling the shit
out of the snare drum. There isn’t a whole lot of mind-bending complexity on this record as far as percussion is concerned, but he’s got a knack for giving any given moment a lot more weight than it probably deserves. Credit where it is due; Kinard makes some killer vocal deliveries and manages to carry over a lot of the emotional impact found on Children of Fire
, but the inconsistency of quality between his house staple mids and a newfound appreciation for attempting lows sometimes ruins the flow. Arguably the most impressive scream on the record (an 8 second roar around two minutes and 40 seconds into “Decimation & Burial”) is directly preceded by some fairly giggle-worthy gutturals.
This all leaves me in a state of confusion. On the one hand, there are so many ridiculous riffs on Bloodied / Unbowed
. On the other hand, the seemingly increased creative authority Blay has causes just as much harm to Oh, Sleeper’s sound as it does good. I mean, good save preventing the piano from obliterating the chaise lounge; I am all the more appreciative of your meaty guns but Ol’ Bill has still been whisked off to the afterlife. It’s obviously speculative work making the assumption so many elements are missing based on a current lack of members relative to previous works, but the emptiness that pervades is incredibly difficult to ignore, riffing spectacle and all. The record starts on the wrong side of the bed, ends on the floor, and everything in between is either career defining or tragic. I’m most certainly entertained, but I can’t help but feel disappointed that Oh, Sleeper have bookended the decade with first a swansong, and then an unholy revival.