I have a penchant for picking bands based on their names alone lately. For the most part, doing so has yielded some pretty damn good results. So when the Grymm Grab Bag™ belched forth The Camel, The Lion, The Child, the debut full-length from Seattle’s He Whose Ox Is Gored, you can say that I was a bit nervous. Long band name? Check. Nietzsche-inspired album title? Check. The sound labeled as “progressive doom”? Check. All signs were pointing to “pretentious,” and I was ready to give it a lashing. The only problem is that The Camel, The Lion, The Child is actually pretty damn engrossing and endearing.
First off, “progressive doom” is a great all-encompassing label for what He Whose Ox Is Gored do, but it’s so limiting. There are elements of doom and prog rock, to be sure, but there’s a healthy amount of shoegaze and sludge thrown in there as well, and it all works radiantly. You wouldn’t know it on opener “Oathbreaker,” though, as there’s an unmistakable Mastodon riff that leads the album off, alongside some keyboard swells. It’s mostly an instrumental save for one shouted line by guitarist Brian McClelland. There’s a tight rhythm supplied by drummer John O’Connell and bassist Mike Sparks, holding down an incredible foundation for McClelland’s circular melodies and Lisa Mungo’s keyboard atmospherics, but it’s not quite original. Still, it pulls you into the band’s world, even if it’s by baby steps.
The good news is that those baby steps stretch into countless miles just as “Crusade” marches forth, with McClelland sharing vocal duties with Mungo, the latter of which providing a beautiful keyboard melody with Sparks’ bass dancing over it around the 5:21 mark. From that moment forward, The Camel becomes an ensnaring album stuffed full of emotional roller coaster highs and lows. “Cairo” starts tranquilly before laying down the heaviest of Isis riffs at 2:24, laying to waste all that gets in the way. “Alpha” shows a more delicate side, with Mungo wailing over a simple drum pattern and guitar melody, only to throw its considerable heft halfway through the song. Every song on The Camel is beautifully paced, thoroughly engaging, and skillfully crafted.
The production by Robert Cheek and Matt Bayles (Isis, Mastodon) is lush and entrancing. The keyboards make their presence felt without overpowering the bass or drums, and the guitars sound warm and shimmery. The one complaint I have is that the band doesn’t begin to find its own identity until the second track, “Omega,” where it successfully marries its considerable influences into their own beast. Another point I want to make is that The Camel, The Lion, The Child is the ultimate “headphones album,” meaning this album is meant to be played in a quiet area with your cans on your ears, and preferably from start to finish, for as good as the songs are individually, you’re only shortchanging yourself from partaking a beautiful 53-minute journey.
I take pride in pulling something out of the Grymm Grab Bag™ and have the album not royally suck. I take bigger pride in discovering a cool new band to check out. He Whose Ox Is Gored crafted an amazing debut full-length that should be heard by anyone who’s interested in a fresh approach to doom metal, shoegaze, and progressive rock. Hunt this one down, folks.
DR: 8 | Format Reviewed: 256 kbps mp3
Label: Bleeding Light Records
Websites: https: hewhoseoxisgored.bandcamp.com | hwoig.com | facebook.com/hewhoseoxisgored
Releases Worldwide: October 9th, 2015