Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Oh Sleeper - "Children of Fire"

Metalcore is getting kinda long in the tooth. Even amongst metalheads, the term "metalcore" has come to have something of a stigma attached to it. It almost implies that whichever band you're talking about isn't really all that heavy, or hardcore, or truly-madly-deeply metal. In the case of some bands, it's a label appropriately applied when done with a bit of disdain; hundreds of metalcore bands litter the scene that all sound more or less exactly like each other. Even to a diehard metalhead like myself, metalcore has really lost its sheen and brilliance.

ENTER: Oh, Sleeper.


I'm gonna take a cue from Julie Andrews on this one and start at the very beginning...of the album anyway. The first track, "Endseekers," was the first track I heard back when the band was releasing a few preview clips of the new album a couple of months ago. The song turned out to be one of the few tracks I've ever heard that had me hooked from literally the second it started. It's got a kind of groove/borderline djent riff to it for about 15 seconds, and then lead vocalist Micah Kinard comes in with the lyrics "Pry your eyes and behold our captain (Rally 'round his feet!) As He controls His captive! (Bring him to his knees!)" and I literally got goosebumps. It's one of the most solid openings to any album I've ever heard, and leaves you with such a glow that you might not even notice if the rest of the album is any good.

Fortunately, it is - literally from start to finish. There's barely a wasted second - not a song on here feels like a filler track - and the album is just as heavy as any of their previous material.

The song "Hush Yael" revisits the Nahariya attack; an attempted kidnapping and subsequent murder of an Israeli family carried out by Samir Kuntar in 1979. The song starts out rather quiet and mournful, Kinard singing in a subdued dirge. At :27 the song literally explodes onto the listeners ears with another perfectly thunderous musical assault as Micah shouts "Wet your jaws for the world! We're going back to the darkest hours!" The song goes on to chronicle the brutal killings perpetrated at Kuntar's hand, and exhorts the listeners to "Rise and make these victims our martyrs." It's a song that gives me goosebumps every time I listen to it, and even typing these words out I'm getting chills down my spine. It's that powerful. The song descends further and further into fury until its last few moments: while a dark and brooding breakdown thunders away, Micah cries "End him slow." It's 'revenge-metal' at its finest and one of those songs that'll give you a second wind during a workout.

The title track and final song on the album is also another solid home run for Oh, Sleeper. Hell, the whole album is. But I'm going to try to keep it limited to my personal favorites - difficult as they are to pick out. I love that this album starts and ends on two songs that are just amazing. The chorus of "We are the children of fire, we are the lions, we stand when all else deserted, because we were born to fight and fight and fight!" is enough to get your blood pumping just reading it. But lay that over a melodic breakdown complete with a lead melody as intricate and forceful as anything that Oh, Sleeper has recorded and you essentially have an album that would have been worth the money just for this single. Or just for "Hush Yael." Or "Endseekers."

Whether your personal religious beliefs run in course with or afoul of Oh, Sleeper's - I think you'll still find it hard to resist how infectious their conviction is. The band doesn't make any bones about their faith as Christians - but this album still manages to be the kind that can resonate with those who don't believe as they do. For my part, Children of Fire is the kind of album that has really sparked a renewed desire to pursue my faith.


I honestly can't really say much in the way of negatives about this album - melodramatic though that may seem. Occasionally Oh, Sleeper likes to play with rhyme schemes that don't *exactly* match (rhyming "...in my name" with "...that he made" for example) and as a fan of lyrical gymnastics I occasionally find those stretches a bit much. And you've heard this complaint from me before, but the album is just too short. That's not to say it's a true fault, but when I get through 36-some odd minutes of just pure musical bliss and there's no more...that makes me a sad panda.


I'm going to say it: Children of Fire may be the best metal album of the year. With 3 months left to go and promises of new releases from many of my favorite bands, I'm still fairly confident that this piece will rank among the finest of 2011. It's arguably the best metalcore album of the year, and if you feel that metalcore has already run its course - this album will change your mind.

Oh, Sleeper deftly handles transitions between heavy and acoustic tracks (two whole songs with no screaming on them and little more than an acoustic melody feature prominently on this CD, and they somehow fit right in amidst the chaos) while still managing to somehow bring the heat throughout the entire album's length. Children of Fire is dark, ominous, brooding, aggressive, powerful, inspiring, profound, and beautiful. For me, it's the best Oh, Sleeper album to date and proof that dedication and commitment can still mine gems from the decaying ruins of metalcore.

Now I really regret not being able to make it to this album's release party.

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