A retrospective review of one of the most captivating releases of the year.
With as many musical acts as critics encounter on a daily basis, is it any surprise that even a site such as ours can overlook a potential killer waiting in the shadows? Well — here at Heaviest of Art, we take pride in knowing that we give as many groups as possible a fair chance. Hundreds, if not thousands of hours go into the process. The payoff is always evident. Sometimes, it comes in the form of a fervent enthusiasm upon discovering that something passed you by. That enthusiasm has been ushered forth today by a phenomenal release, one that emerged from the depths back in May of this year. The bringer of tunes — a Cleveland group by the name of OLATHIA, with their sophomore LP, a catchy little ripper called Snake Charmer.
From the second it starts, the music uncoils a minute long melodic intro, a taste of things to come. The marrow of what this represents is a common theme throughout the entire record, and it warms the heart to see a heavy contender doling out as much melody and catchy lyricism as this one. Everything listeners can recognize from a nostalgic glimpse back at their favorite groups is present in this package. Thumpy drums kick an uneven back-beat into the air while a dual guitar tone sings its own voice around the husky, and soothing vocals of Chris Emig. Somewhere between the signatures of Warlock and In This Moment, the opening track reveals that it's a firm believer in the tenets of traditional heavy metal and that they're here to play circles around their competition, making ear-worms that will tunnel their way inside you.
Martyr frets a lively lick from the get-go, thrusting into an angry tirade of vocals that are syncopated behind the familiar starting theme. With all of its beauty, a venom drips from between the verses of the song, the razor wit bringing quips like, "you, you're nothing but hate. You, I can't relate. It's the mindset that you self-create." It's a damning inspection under a microscope that makes for a fun and flighty chorus that's just a blast to belt out loud.
Gloom and obscurity are brought back with a vengeance in the third track, aptly titled Isolation. In front of this soft acoustic segment, a faint song of torture and emotional seclusion builds up to an anthemic release that escapes from its introduction like a bat out of hell. It's here that guitarists CJ Langmack, and Greg Gruben tag-team every other measure in a manner that is a roller coaster of scales and spirals down into the dungeon that this track was birthed from. Vocal diversity on this song shows off an entire spectrum of possibilities, and the harsh end of screams bring an energy that tells the tale of the road traveled by this group since their debut opus. It's jagged, without the form and fluidity that make groups sound too overproduced and practiced. There's a definite path to the finish, but they're in control all the way, and it feels like the group is playing to compete.
In the depths of this album rests a track called Black Widow, and within its confines lies all the elements of a perfect storm of alt-metal and core influences that just shouldn't work, but they do in a way that's both confounding, and creative as hell. Slow fist-pumping passages give a sparing plateau of sound that chugs endlessly, only to have their throats cut by a flurry of beats that march in time with a surge of rhythmic guitar trills that turn the song on its head. It's hauntingly memorable, and there's a constant chant of "I am THE QUEEN!" that forces this reviewer into a karaoke rendition of a song that sounds similar, with far less vocal stability. This track sets OLATHIA far above their competitors, even a decade apart. It boggles the mind that this song is not blanketing radio stations nationwide, as it's made of the same foundations that comprise festival-veterans' sets everywhere. It has riffs so thick one could swim in them, and perfectly timed gaps that force a momentary silence that separates one movement from the next. The snare smacks get a double workout here, courtesy of Brian Donahue, and the kit sounds so clean that imitation is inevitable. He's a powerhouse, and a technical one at that.
RoTog is up next, and while this review has taken painstaking measures to lay out what a monster the previous track was, there's no denying that this one hurts just as good. It's a fast-picking slayer that will strangle listeners who have not yet been convinced of its heavy convictions. There's such a depth to layers of dynamic, separated style here that at times it can become possible to lose oneself amidst the battery of sounds that are threatening to drown audiences. Rhythm on top of melody, harmonious vocal over drum-fill and cymbal splash, even the subtle bass-lines of Terry Johnson come soaring over the top of the rhythm in segments that force metalheads to press repeat, if only to hear those sweet, partitioned fragments of sound that fit effortlessly into a puzzle of their own design. This is a composition that works well because of the sum of its parts, and there's just so much to inhale. This track has made some daily listening lists, and with a dual-solo bridge that you have to hear to believe, this reviewer would wager no one is ready for such a banger.
For a group as underground as OLATHIA, one expects a DIY formula that seems both low-budget and comparable to other physical packages that a group of their size could offer with a small, but capable team. Nothing could be further from the truth. One glance at the limited edition CD package of Snake Charmer and I intrigued by it's comprehensive, detailed setup; the lyrics were carefully placed in creative designs inside a comic-book style magazine that features hand-drawn artwork, a well-packaged CD inside a digipak of notable quality, a downloadable copy of the work for Bandcamp redemption, and a slew of stickers! It blew away all of my expectations, and proves that when groups care about the quality of the physical/musical offerings they put out, their dedication shows in a unique way.
Snake Charmer closes in exactly the same way it opens. American Dream, and Punch Me I Bleed are two tracks that show the versatility and the sheer dauntlessness to write an album that doesn't act as if it's repeating itself even once. It's quick and over-the-top. There are points where the album feels as if OLATHIA has seen the past and present landscape of American Heavy Metal, and decided that it's possible for you to have the best of both worlds without compromising. It's well-produced, but not polished to hell. Oftentimes I wondered if there was a budget behind this project similar to multi-decade headlining groups who stepped out of the Nü Metal scene and right into languid mediocrity. The difference is that there's an erudite self-awareness behind this body of work.
OLATHIA have not come to re-invent the wheel. They do so many things incredibly well and refuse to try too hard to convince you they should be heard. They're scene veterans who have the know-how to produce a hooking, swinging, slaying good time and it is this reviewer's sincere hope that their footprint will only continue to grow. For this being only a sophomore effort — it's ambitious, rowdy, and just a little bit nostalgic for someone who grew up watching groups try to live in the shadow of titans like Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, and Black Sabbath.
Make no mistake; Snake Charmer is not a case of the serpent eating its tail. OLATHIA is what happens when the serpent releases, and slithers off to find fresh blood.
FFO: In This Moment, Unleash The Archers, Haunt, Trees of Eternity
Snake Charmer is available now and you can get your limited edition package HERE.