Label: Holy Roar Records
Can I confess something? Something that might seem vaguely controversial in modern metal circles, if not outright blasphemous? Previously records by Ohhms had left me slightly cold. Oh sure, I could appreciate them in a technical sense – I’d have to be a literally fool to not be impressed by the ambition and sheer muscianship on display on previous albums like The Fool – but with Exist, it feels as if all the potential demonstrated on such albums has reached its apex. Containing four songs of progressive sludge metal laced through with post-metal influence, Exist is an album as notable for its technical virtuosity as it is its emotional bloodletting; an album that pushes the envelope in terms of song structure, complexity, and sheer heart. In short, it’s a bit bloody good.
Ironically, “short” is not a term that should be used to describe Exist. The lead track, ‘Subjects’, is over 22 minutes long, and the other tracks are all between six and eight minutes in length. Not that at any stage do they feel excessive or bloated; Ohhms are an experienced band, and that shows in the way that they make their combination of prog, sludge, and post-metal move with such grace; even at its heaviest moments, there is a constant sensation of forward momentum, of the music moving toward a set destination. As this implies, there is a control exhibited throughout by the band, who must have spent many long hours working away on these songs to make them feel so compact, so flowing, so natural.
And nature is a central aspect of Exist. The theme of animal rights and recognising that animals are sentient beings, with their own lives and existence, is one that runs throughout the album. It’s directly stated in the repeated cry during ‘Subjects’ of “Hear I am!”, a plea for recognition – for how can we respect the rights of others if we don’t acknowledge them in the first place? It’s a challenging cry, one that takes in the realities of medical testing, modern farming, and all the other often-overlooked ways in that capitalism treats animals as a resource to be exploited and nothing more – all themes that the song touches upon. Yet it’s never heavy-handed with it; this is no bludgeoning over the head with politics in the style of 80’s punk. Exist is an album that tackles some very difficult themes with a rare intelligence and heart. It’s not the only subject handled on Exist, with final track ‘Lay Down Your Firearms’ being a strident call against violence, but it’s the central theme of the album.
All of which would count for little if the music weren’t so moving. Previous Ohhms records have been the sort of music I could appreciate if not always enjoy or connect with, but Exist is the finest work the band have produced thus far. Other than the fact that ‘Subjects’ takes an album’s worth of ideas an pieces them together into a single song, there’s no grand changes here compared to last year’s The Fool – the previous post-metal and progressive sludge touch-stones remain relevant, with the band touching similar territories and emotional realms as both Baroness and Isis. But Exist simply has a greater sense of both focus and ambition, of riffs crafted that bit more strongly, of a little more heart going into each line sung. Which, given the subject matter, is only fitting. ‘Subjects’ will undoubtedly be recognised as centre-piece that it is – and the song formed the majority of Ohhms’ recent set at Damnation Festival – but everything on Exist is excellent, and cements Ohhms’ place as one of, if not the, best metal bands in the UK right now.