- Year 2017
- Genre Black MetalPost HardcoreSynth Pop
- Country United States
- Label Self Released
- Rating Solid
When a band tags their music as both black metal and dance pop, that’s a definite way to grab my attention. Olympia’s Ox has done just that with their self-titled debut, which came out back in June. Aside from a location and band picture on Bandcamp there isn’t a whole lot of information available about the group, but it’s clear that they’ve chosen to let their music speak for itself. Spread across six lengthy tracks, Ox delivers an ambitious effort that incorporates elements of atmospheric black metal, synth pop, and even some post hardcore leaning moments.
What Ox has managed to do is merge these two almost polar opposite tonalities into seamless transitions, resulting in something that reminds me of a cross between the Pacific Northwest black metal sound and mid to late period The Blood Brothers
To its credit, I can’t think of too many other releases that sound quite like the combination of genres this group has merged together on this album. The overall style is hard to pin down, as one song might shift towards a danceable beat and brighter textures that have a quirky, fun feeling while the next adopts a darker atmosphere and ups the abrasive black metal influences. What Ox has managed to do is merge these two almost polar opposite tonalities into seamless transitions, resulting in something that reminds me of a cross between the Pacific Northwest black metal sound and mid to late period The Blood Brothers. Each of the instruments is given equal focus over the course of the album, and while the guitar riffs and soaring keyboard melodies are likely to grab your attention the first time through, the bass and drums are given plenty of opportunity to take the spotlight as well. There does seem to be a noticeable shift in tone around the halfway point though, as the new wave and pop sounds generated by the keyboards early on give way to some darker, more introspective melodies on the last three songs. Given the ambitious push towards longer track lengths, a few sections do feel like they run for a bit longer than they need to and it felt like it did take a song or two for Ox to fully hit their stride. But there’s plenty of substance to come back to, and the interplay between bright, bouncier numbers and dark, abrasive textures proves to be quite appealing.
With three out of the four members contributing vocals, there’s a considerable amount of variation to the performance. Early on there’s a mix of high pitched screaming and clean choruses where the singing towers over the instrumentals with an immense amount of power. This is another area where Ox is hard to predict, as the harsher ranges head into ear piercing highs and lower growls while the singing channels everything from grittier rock and post hardcore to synth pop. A few of the cleaner ranges didn’t seem to always completely sync up with what the instrumentals are doing and come off sounding a bit awkward, but the positives outweigh the negatives and the sheer amount of variation works to the band’s advantage.
Ox has left themselves with room to head in any direction they wish, and while a few sections on their debut drag slightly this is still an album worth spending time with. The combination of atmospheric black metal and new wave/post hardcore influences gives this material its own sound, and it’s one that is genuinely fun to explore. After all, there aren’t too many black metal leaning efforts that can be described as bright and bouncy one moment and dark and powerful the next. Hopefully Ox continues to surprise in the future, as they’re definitely onto something with this debut.