Omotai’s mind-altering sludge unleashes violence and loss with tragic story ‘A Ruined Oak’

Photo by Angela Lee

Metal often is seen as containing power and strength, a place where vulnerability has no place. What a bunch of bullshit. Metal is here to express all types of emotions, even those that don’t come from a place of absolute strength. There is room for sadness and disillusionment, where we scurry to find some meaning in the dark portions of our lives.

Houston’s Omotai are not concerned with how they’re perceived when addressing sadness and pain. Their third record “A Ruined Oak” focuses on the lost colony of the Roanoke, and with that comes feelings of abandonment caused by violence and loss. It’s heavy subject matter, and it’s hard to confront when you consider history and where we stand right now as a country. To examine that strain is painful and sorrowful, something that forces people to address the nation’s past and where we stand today. The record is a real challenge, a 12-track, double LP that sprawls, mauls, and crushes, as this collection forces you to feel true feelings, even if that makes some people confront something uncomfortable. The band—guitarist/vocalist Sam Waters, bassist/vocalist Melissa Lomchambon Ryan, guitarist Jaime Ross, drummer Danny Mee—have been making these mucky, sludgy sounds since 2009, but this is their most impactful record so far.

“Welcome to The Adders’ Land” starts the tale ripping the lid off with a pummeling pace, raspy growls, and the wails of, “Don’t look back!” That intensity continues until the drums rupture veins at the end. The title track is right behind it, piling on more meaty riffs, back and forth yells over the chaos, and guitars spitting fire. All the elements fall together, as the song ends in gravel-mouthed shouts and vicious thrashing. “Last of The Green Vial” has guitars trucking, as Waters and Ryan trade shouts. Burly punching and bloody guitars mix, bringing a compelling dose of fire. “Arms That Flood” slowly chews away, rumbling and claiming bones before the tempo is kicked into gear. The yells are massive and dirty, while the drums are calculated and mangy. Atmospheric leads bring a mystical wonder to the song, while the track slithers away. “Blackjaw” is a total ass-kicker, with Ryan on lead vocals, and the music leaving bruised eyes. The chorus is infectious, while the pace is galloping and spirited. “Back to The Drifting Satellite” has guitars chugging, speaking underneath that, and Ryan delivering compelling singing that mixes with demonic growls. Waters’ voice then joins the fray, while the song goes back and forth from chilled to thickly humid.

“A Cruel Weight, Thy Wound” is one of the longest songs, an 8:08 smasher that opens quietly before landing heavy body blows. Crushing growls and dream-state singing mix, and the delivery feels particularly heartfelt and emotional, as the two vocalists swap lines later, and the song bleeds out. “Fire Is a Whore” is tricky and prog-fueled at the start, as the band proves they have some unexpected tricks up their sleeves. Ryan’s singing over the chorus gives off a cool L7 vibe, while the band clubs away, and a final burst of speed takes away your breath. “A Maiden Nerve” has the drums and bass thickening and leading the march, as the track gets speedy and shrieky, and a hardcore-flavored edge even comes into play. The cut keeps bashing skulls before it melts into noise. “The Savage Sky” has riffs scattering fast, while the playing flattens bodies, and the growls sound gnarly as hell. The devastating path takes a jerk toward more prog, giving the track a creative finish. “Augustina” has an ominous opening that sends chills, as Ryan’s haunting singing gets inside your bloodstream and takes you somewhere else. Later, the mud thickens, and blisters are left all over the surface. “Tusk Aurora” is the 9:15 closer that destroys right away and keeps applying that pressure. Throaty growls and fiery soloing unleash lava, as the song bubbles up, releasing steam. The final minutes are immersed in blues-smoked, fiery guitars, and the song keeps giving off psyche lighting right up until it finally fades.

Omotai’s force is without question, and the tough subject matter they confront on “A Ruined Oak” is a punishing display of history and human emotion. These 12 songs, stripped of meaning, would make for a heavy-as-fuck record that would register on the seismic scale. You add in the intent from their hearts, and it’s a heavier document than you could imagine. It’s a killer.

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