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It feels like forever since we’ve heard something new from Oh, Sleeper, especially with this new album’s “first”single, ‘Oxygen,’ coming out all the way back in 2016. ‘Bloodied / Unbowed‘ marks their much-welcomed return since their magnum opus, ‘Children of Fire‘ (2011), was released eight long years ago. In music, that timeline sure feels like forever!
Now, if you’re the kind of person who loves fast-paced and straight to the point metalcore with gnarly riffs and soaring anthems, then this is the album for you. With that being said, don’t expect there to be as much variation or as many melodic leads as on previous records. Regardless, the newest Oh, Sleeper effort is probably their heaviest album yet. And I cannot stress this enough, it certainly feels good to have them back.
A musically heavy record combined with some brutal album artwork sets the stage for their studio comeback. From the moment the record starts with ‘Let It Wave,’ those soul-slicing pick slides dig deep, and it’s made clear that the guitar tone here is thicker, the vocals are grittier, and the whole bands performance is absolutely bone-crushing. The riff to ‘Decimation & Burial‘ is simple and straight forward, and while fine, the occasional technical flourish is what I love to hear – something that was much more prominent on previous releases. Here, though, vocalist Micah Kinard sounds as driven and as charged as ever. His vocals are all over the place in terms of vocal styles, hitting several low growls; certainly unexpected but welcome. He even puts out sinister, maniac-sounding screams, in addition to Shane Blay’s soaring clean vocals during the chorus. The variation in Micah’s vocal styles are what bring me back: there is a little bit of everything. And the vocals are undeniably monstrous but also beautifully catchy throughout, with the occasional backing vocal adding more “oomph” and layer to certain parts. The vocals are an easy highlight!
Setting the vocals aside, the instrumentation unfortunately does get a little stale rather quickly. Oh, Sleeper have set aside the melodic guitar leads of old for the most part, prioritising the lower side of the frequency spectrum. The riffs are still interesting and heavy, but the layering and octave dynamics between the rhythm and lead guitars is what really drew me to this band previously, and that dynamic just isn’t as present or as strong here. Instead, the guitars sometime get darker or cleaner to set things up, as per the intro to ‘The Island.’ ‘Fissure‘ relies on the djenty abuse of the instruments (most of the record does) whilst providing one of the catchier choruses of the whole lot. Even with the chorus being a little repetitive (“do not revive me“), it is still intoxicating, namely with the back and forth between the singing and harsher screamed backing vocals. ‘Two Ships‘ provides a nice little break from the assault on the low-strings with a short ballad section to kick off the track, progressing to this chunky outro that doesn’t rely on the non-stop chugging but rather some good ol’ chord strumming for once; a much needed change of pace. ‘The Summit‘ closes the album out beautifully with soft strumming accompanied by Shane’s luscious vocals to draw this record to a fitting close.
While much of ‘Bloodied / Unbowed‘ relies on overdone and occasionally uninteresting chugging, there’s the odd nasty little flourish here and there, like during the verses of ‘Decimation & Burial.’ Similarly, ‘The Island‘ shows off some cool syncopation during the chorus that I just love to tap my feet to while I air-drum smashing that china with full force. This track really reminds me of ‘Define The Great Line‘-era Underoath with the Spencer Chamberlain-esque vocals, all mixed in with After The Burial for the really aggressive, punchy guitar tones. And on that last note, the production behind ‘Bloodied / Unbowed‘ certainly carries a lot of bite and grit to it sonically, working in tandem with the band’s heavier sound here.
‘Bloodied / Unbowed’ is certainly a solid record, just one that occasionally lacks some instrumental variety, but with great vocal performances and tight production that more than makes up for it. What made Oh, Sleeper’s previous albums so special was that there were very few bands that sounded like the way that they specifically did back in the late 2000’s and early 2010’s. However, it is 2019 now. If this record would’ve been released two or three years after 2011’s ‘Children of Fire’, it would’ve been better received given the waves of progressive, djenty, and technical metalcore that was then just starting to blow up. It would’ve felt fresher back then. Now, there are countless other bands in the same family of metalcore who’ve already done this or who are doing more interesting things at this point. Take Japan’s Crystal Lake, for example. Don’t get me wrong, ‘Bloodied / Unbowed’ is a good return and a solid record, but it just feels like it’s a little late to the larger party. With that all being said, if you like metalcore, to pretty much any kind of degree, then you’ll likely dig this catchy and nasty new beast. Oh, Sleeper certainly need to be on your radar if you missed the boat on their music, as they’ve been doing some great work for a long time now, and they’re continuing to do so with their newest album.
1. Let It Wave
2. Decimation & Burial
4. Of Bane & Disease
5. Two Ships
6. The Island
8. Pulse over Throne
10. The Summit
‘Bloodied / Unbowed’ is out now.