Coalesce - Ox (Cover Artwork)
Staff Review


Ox (2009)


Coalesce has never been a band fit for first impressions. Oft-cited as one of The Big Four masterfully blending a chaotic and influential concoction of metal and hardcore, its various offshoots seemingly didn't even bother trying to replicate the band's grinding abrasion and mathematical wizardry. Instead, former drummer James Dewees and bassists past and present Stacy Hilt and Nate Ellis chose to showcase the desperation of Midwest heartbreak and isolation in their respective projects, the Get Up Kids and the Casket Lottery. Those bands carried an emotional impact and anguished style of melody that was probably more immediate than Coalesce, who provided a sludgy swamp of rewards that could only be reaped when one sunk in knee-deep and brave enough to look for favor in a cacophonous rush of psychotic grunting and roaring and demented fretboard abuse.

It's, perhaps, a reason this review hasn't been written until about six months after the actual release of Ox, the Kansas City, MO quartet's first official studio full-length in a decade. Ox is not easy. The rage contained on 2007's Salt and Passage 7" is certainly replicated here, but in a moderately modified manner with experiments all over the place.

"The Plot Against My Love" finds frontman Sean Ingram frustratingly barking as usual, a riff that sounds like Botch's "To Our Friends in the Great White North" with more low-end, and even one moment that bears a mean, mid-paced, almost NYHC slant. There's some actual singing on "The Comedian in Question" and the beginning of "Wild Ox Moan" by Ellis, stoner melodies that are absolutely jarring considering the band's catalog; maybe that's just them getting the Led out of their systems in a more economical fashion. Ingram's bellowing snarl sounds like it's emanating from a broken mic in much of "In My Wake, For My Own," which also incorporates a bluesy chain-gang take on Gregorian monk chanting...or so it seems.

More ominous and vaguely Spaghetti-western and country western over/undertones sneak their way into the stylistic presentation of tracks like "The Purveyor of Novelty and Nonsense," "We Have Lost Our Will" and "Dead Is Dead," the last of which sounds like the band instituting their take on "When Johnny Comes Marching Home." In a way, it's like Poison the Well's ambitious 2007 album, Versions; but instead of augmenting tracks with distinct genre characteristics, they provide them standing alone and augment those moments with some curious additives. (Ironically, PTW's one band whose impact on underground hardcore/metal might be drastically different if it wasn't for Coalesce's presence in the late '90s.)

Granted, Ox operates much like the animal its title indicates. It's a lumbering, stubborn beast that doesn't always work at the speed one would like it to. "Designed to Break a Man" churns a tad slowly for comfort, and might've benefited from another RPM or two, while "The Villain We Won't Deny" picks up the pace a little after :49 acoustic-plucked interlude "Where Satires Sour."

Nonetheless, this is an interesting and satisfyingly first full effort from the reunited group. Time off hasn't drained their intensity, but time forth will hopefully accelerate their mode, too.

Wild Ox Moan
The Purveyor of Novelty and Nonsense
Questions to Root Out Fools