Their full-length debut The Fool may only be a little over a year and a half old but Canterbury five-piece OHHMS are not ones to rest on their laurels and are back with another offering of prog-influenced post-metal in Exist. Having previously not been afraid to highlight political or social issues, see “The Hanged Man” from The Fool, OHHMS focus the four tracks of Exist on raising awareness of animal rights, conservationism and activism – a set of topics that the band hold dear.
Not a particularly easy listen, either musically or thematically, Exist is elaborate and demands your attention as it unfolds before your ears through unpredictable changes in tempo and volume, especially on “Subjects” the album’s centrepiece. Detailing the plight of caged test subjects (just like the sad monkey on the stark, potent album art; caged on the front cover, liberated on the reverse) “Subjects” is a 23-minutes long album opener that takes up the whole of side A and is driven by the dynamic bass of Chainy Rabbit – either let loose, heavily distorted and agitated or lulling in soft, melodic dips.
On first listen, the transitions between some of the seven distinct sections of “Subjects” can be a little disorientating, but after a few run-throughs it all makes perfect sense and each segment segue is eagerly anticipated. Somehow this song manages to be both the most daunting, complex and intelligent piece that OHHMS have put to record as well as their most appealing. Confidently challenging genre tropes and expectations, neat noise-rock guitar work (and some infectious “Woah-oh-Woah”’s) from Marc Prentice and Stuart Day cuts above Max Newton’s drums as the band shift pace and volume on a dime, then slowly build to the explosive crescendo. I could, and nearly did, write a much more in-depth description of this one song, but I don’t think I could do the whole thing justice – just go and listen to it a few times. On headphones. Loud.
When delivering lyrics on such a difficult and pressing theme there can be a danger of coming across as preachy but this is a trap that OHHMS easily sidestep. Paul Waller’s seething lines are conveyed directly with intelligence and a heartfelt vehemency that offers a very emotionally engaging experience. It’s hard not to get caught up in the vocalist’s and the whole of OHHMS’s energy and enthusiasm that’s most evident on lead single “Shambles” and even features on the relatively calmer “Calves”. Take “Firearms” as an example, the startling fourth and closing track on Exist has the band at their catchiest as Paul Waller bellows his highly relevant and cutting commentary on environmental protests and activism, over the top of guitars that buzz with a hardcore edge. After only a couple of listens, I found myself singing and shouting along (“Engage. Direct action!”) to his powerful vocal delivery that strikes a balance between fiery and accessible.
OHHMS ambitiously draw on different influences, from prog and doom to noise-rock and post-hardcore, and incorporate multiple variations in pace and direction whilst consistently maintaining the overriding tone and indeed the overall high quality. Another feather in both OHHMS’s and Holy Roar’s cap, Exist is an assuredly adventurous album that may be uncomfortable to listen to at first but put in the work and you’ll be rewarded with an intense and passionate album.
Exist is out now on Holy Roar Records