Some people in the music world claim guitar music is going the way of the buffalo. However, in the South, that's far from true; the bulk of the solid metal that's come out in recent years has come from Texas and surrounding Southern states. So if for some reason you don't know about Houston's Omotai, you've been missing out on one of the strongest metal bands to call Houston home. On their new album, A Ruined Oak, they prove that heavy music and loud guitars are far from dead, while dropping one of the strongest releases the genre has seen this year.
There's always a hint of darkness in how Omotai crafts a song, letting loose a dizzying array of blistering notes that might cause bleeding ears if the volume is turned up loud enough. Opening with the explosive riffs of "Welcome to the Adders' Land," the four-piece wastes no time getting your attention with screamy vocals, a commanding mix of bass and guitars, and intense drums. Next come the catchy and ferocious sounds of "A Ruined Oak," where the dual screams really hit home until the melody in the bridge takes the track to a whole new place. Omotai are at their best when they keep things heavy but catchy at the same time, like on "Last of the Green Vial," whose chunky riffs alone should lock you in. Magic occurs when these four play together — the drums almost seem to taunt the guitars to go harder, faster, and heavier, resulting in a track that begs to be put on repeat.
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Omotai slow their roll a bit on "Arms That Flood," but "Blackjaw," the following track, really hits like you want it to. The opening drums and howling vocals create an intensity unmatched by many metal bands, while the guitars sound like they're attempting to break down a mountain rock by rock. There's so much happening here that if the track weren't so immediately agreeable, you might get lost in all the technical intricacies. Three songs later, the punishing brutality of "Fire Is a Whore" offers up dueling guitar tones and vocals somewhat like early Helmet but without lifting from them at all. Omotai sets their own standard of excellence before breaking through and exceeding that goal every time — "A Maiden Nerve," up next, feels like the studio might explode due to the sheer heaviness these four make together.
The squealing sonic landscape that opens "The Savage Sky" keeps the intensity flowing; if Omotai is attempting to prove how heavy and punishing they can be, this song is a perfect example. Only an epic stretching past nine minutes could close out an album like this, and "Tusk Aurora" fits the bill in style; ruled by math-rock guitars, it's so mystifying it doesn't feel nearly as long as its actual running time. Even when Omotai changes direction, it's a welcome surprise.
A Ruined Oak is easily Omotai's best release so far. By embracing new sounds and throwing in some shorter tracks, they've found a way to reach out to possible new fans while keeping their old ones happy. You can stream the album in all of the usual places, or grab the double vinyl directly from the band via their Bandcamp page. A proper album-release party is in the works for January, but the finalized date and venue were not available at press time. In the meantime, catch Omotai when they perform an in-store set at Cactus Music on November 25.