oxHype can kill a record, or at least wound it at first. I had been told of the supposed greatness of Coalesce’s first record in a decade several times before Axl Rosenberg forwarded it to me last week for review: on the day it leaked back in April, a friend sent me a link to it and feverishly insisted I download it. I did not and forgot about it. Another friend, after hearing it, described it as “really weird, with a lot of stoner sorta parts,” pausing, before adding, “You’ll probably like it a lot.” Then Decibel gave it a 10 out of 10, a grade I’ve personally seen attributed only to Cannibal Corpse’s DVD retrospective last year. By the time I was ready to hear it, there was no way it could meet the expectation set for it unless it came with a solid gold statue of Betty White wrestling a hyrda with a sound similar to that. I was seemingly set up for disappointment – a legacy record that hit the desks and hard drives of folks with a weak spot for the band due to the part they played in their youth? – and it wouldn’t be as good as, say, Cynic’s Traced in Air or another of metal’s precious few decent comebacks. After a decade of bands ripping off Coalesce, how could anything they do sound fresh, let alone pull off anything that could stand up to their mythic catalog?

To be honest, I don’t know how, but they did. Rest assured, Ox is every bit the solid record you’ve heard it to be.

The thing about Ox is that it succeeds without signs of strain. Perhaps this best shows the mightiness of Coalesce as a band, still being able to write relevant riffs and bizarre yet wonderfully thought out segues without sounding like a moldy rehash of their own glory (you have most of metalcore for that) or a hodgepodge of ideas forming a tapestry of “wouldn’t this be cool?!”. Ox is a dense collection of deliberate mathcore warfare that’s only a little over half an hour long. It’s almost as if the band dropped out after 0:12 Revolution in Just Listening for the sole purpose of coming back a decade later to school the snot-nosed scenesters thrashing about in their wake.

But Ox’s excellence isn’t simply because it’s got a stockpile of odd-yet-destructive riffs; it’s full of the sort of neck-snapping shifts in genre that provide the right amount of confusion and freshness to keep the album a wonderfully diverse experience. Genre-hopping has been abused in the latter part of this decade: its worst can be seen in bands like The Number Twelve Looks Like You, iwrestledabearonce (though obviously that’s the opinion of this writer and not that of the MetalSucks staff as a whole), and the lazier moments of Between the Buried and Me. Its best can be seen on Ox. While the most inspired moments of BTBAM are revelatory-to-hilarious shifts to prog, black metal, and country, Coalesce don’t fuck around at all, providing fascinatingly bizarre trips off the map in “We Have Lost Our Will” and “In My Wake, For My Own”, among others. The former provides almost-indie style orchestration for an outro (complete with fucking glockenspiel), while the latter evokes a pre-blues spiritual-sounding section to provide a bridge between one boogie-ish sludge riff and its more menacing counterpart (the album is loaded with amazing blues segues – ACTUAL Mississippi Delta blues, not the Johnny Lang playing for $68.50 a ticket kind). But neither example is a cute, ironic nod at either genre: the dalliances on this album seem to come from a place buried deep within the music, and make complete sense once they emerge. They may sound disorienting at first, but they’re inspired, not impish.

But it’s not enough to simply be better than those ripping you off; an album with this much momentum and expectation behind it must be just as good – if not arguably better – than the rest of the band’s discography. In a genre that’s become as limp and formulaic as the one they helped create, Coalesce sound remarkably comfortable playing both in and outside the lines. The riffs are still inventive and heavy as fuck, the music still playful-yet-serious. This is still Coalesce, but older. But many have grown with them, and this record, while admittedly weird, is not jarring or a “fuck you” to their legacy. Ox is an excellent, exciting record, and a logical continuation of Coalesce. This is not a comeback record, so much as a welcome back record. So nice to see you, gentlemen. Now don’t drop off the face of the earth again.

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(4 out of 5 horns)


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