When John Dwyer launched a revamped version of Thee Oh Sees in 2015, he tapped into something wild and weird and powerful. 2015's Mutilator Defeated at Last was an expansion of the band's psych/garage sound that beefed up the rhythm section and allowed Dwyer to unlock new levels of fierce guitar work. When the band switched to a dual-drummer lineup, it started a string of records that got more ferocious and unhinged while never straying too far from the gut punch their best songs deliver. 2018's Smote Reverser feels like the culmination of all the experimentation the band has undertaken over the previous few years, the final steps of Dwyer's ascent to guitar genius, and the kind of album whose deep mysteries will keep people buzzing for years. The record touches on a lot of things the band has been doing -- like boogie rock, prog freakouts, psychedelic wanderings, blown-out garage rock -- but it also stretches out into thunderous proto metal and jazz-rock explorations. The core group of Dwyer, bassist Tim Hellman, drummers Dan Rincon and Paul Quattrone, and vocalist Brigid Dawson are joined by Tomas Dolas of Mr. Elevator and the Brain Hotel on a variety of keyboards, and he and Dwyer add more keys to the sound than usual, surrounding the pummeling thud of the core band with a swirling array of vintage organ and synth sounds. The album kicks off with the brilliant "Sentient Oona," a song that has many snaking twists and turns as it swerves from restrained, percussive verses to wild sections of outer space jazz where Dwyer's spiraling guitar battles with peals of organ. It's a definite warning shot that the band are heading off into a new dimension and the rest of the record is full of similar songs that take their standard formula, twist it into knots, then shoot it into the sun. The steady-rolling "Enrique el Cobrador" sounds like Deep Purple dragged through barbed wire, "C" rolls and tumbles like Canned Heat on an acid bender, "Moon Bog" stalks around like a truly menacing baby Sabbath, "Anthemic Aggressor" stretches out for 12 minutes of free-jazz wandering, and the slow trip of "Flies Bump Against the Glass" gives the listener a brief respite of soft psych near the end. Add to that paint-peeling rockers ("Abysmal Urn," "Overthrown"), a low-key ballad ("Last Peace"), and an almost funky jam that uses the keys to their full possibilities ("Beat Quest"), and it ends up their most varied and accomplished record yet. It's truly a showcase for Dwyer's ever-growing skill at conjuring fiery magic out of six strings, as well as his unquenchable desire to keep pushing the band's sound forward. Smote Reverser is undeniably an Oh Sees record, with all 20 years of the band's history coming through every note played and sung, but it feels like a huge step into something new that's sure to be just as exciting and unpredictable.
AllMusic Review by Tim Sendra