Among Christian bands, Oh, Sleeper has never been afraid to make bold and sometimes uncomfortable statements with their music.
For instance, the title of the Fort Worth, Texas-based metalcore band’s debut album, When I Am God, seems at first glance to be a blatant declaration of self-worship; on closer inspection, it’s revealed to be an indictment against the modern church. The album artwork for their sophomore release was no less eyebrow-raising: a pentagram with two missing points was emblazoned across the cover. This “broken pentagram” was intended to represent God’s ultimate defeat of Satan, a concept the band explored in the thematically-driven album.
So when it became apparent that Children of Fire, Oh, Sleeper’s latest full-length, was a post-apocalyptic concept album focusing on the aftermath of God’s disappearance from the world, it didn’t come as a surprise. And considering the band’s track record for writing powerful and unforgettable songs, it also isn’t a surprise that Children of Fire is a great album.
Oh, Sleeper doesn’t beat around the bush with Children of Fire. The first four songs are raucous and unrelenting, showcasing the work of guitarists Shane Blay and James Erwin while Micah Kinard unleashes a vocal onslaught.
The album kicks off with “Endseekers,” which picks up the story right where it ended on Son of the Morning. God has defeated Satan in a climactic battle and his followers become distraught when he suddenly disappears from the scene, leaving a lost and confused humanity to make sense of it all.
“Shed Your Soul” and “The Marriage of Steel and Skin” follow, two chaotic tracks which showcase Oh, Sleeper’s technical guitar work. Taken out of context, the nihilism contained in “Shed Your Soul” could be confusing, but as with many lyrics on Children of Fire, it must be taken in the context of the story the album tells.
“Hush Yael” is one of the strongest songs on the album. The track starts off gently before it explodes into one of the most urgent and emotional songs in Oh, Sleeper’s repertoire. Blay’s gentle clean vocals are contrasted with Kinard’s fierce, rage-filled screams as he recounts the story of an Israeli family that was gunned down by a murderer in 1979.
Harrowing themes such as this are common on Children of Fire. Kinard’s lyrics probe the dark depths of human nature as he portrays a world where God is absent and people are left to fend for themselves.
The album’s storyline follows a religious zealot and his atheist daughter as they deal with the aftermath of God’s exit. In telling this story, Kinard doesn’t hesitate to deal with weighty and sometimes disturbing subject matter on the album. It’s this bold and honest approach that makes Oh, Sleeper stand out in a genre where Christian bands can come across as preachy and superficial.
Children of Fire also sees Oh, Sleeper branch out into new musical territory. The band throws in two acoustic songs—“The Conscience Speaks” and “Means to Believe”— which, although definitely a surprise on an album like this, are a welcome change of pace. Their presence really helps give this record a serious and somber tone, and the fact that Oh, Sleeper is able to make these songs work demonstrates their continued growth as songwriters.
The heavy stuff is still there, though, and it’s more forceful than ever. Songs like “Endseekers” and “Claws of a God” pummel the listener with driving riffs and well-placed breakdowns.
Oh, Sleeper also has a knack for injecting melody into their music—something that often feels like it’s been crudely tacked on to many metal songs. “Chewing the Stitch” is a perfect example of this: a frenzied build-up effortlessly gives way to an upbeat chorus, then descends into a crushing breakdown, all the while retaining a sense of cohesion and flow.
Children of Fire is a very strong release that shows Oh, Sleeper’s continuing maturation. Most albums I come across these days have little substance, so it’s refreshing to see a band put some thought into their lyrics and craft a record that has some artistic unity. The guys in Oh, Sleeper do what they do well and they’re a fun band to listen to in a genre that’s crowded with clichés and copycats.