I Will Guide Thy Hand, the debut LP of Indianapolis-based OLAM, is uncompromisingly ferocious hardcore, recalling Botch or the harder edges of Converge; the album is propelled by galloping drums, sharp shrieks and jagged riffing, songs frequently interspersed with slower brooding moments or a strategically patient bridge. I Will Guide Thy Hand is, for the most part, harrowing and a faithful embodiment of its bluntly stated themes of violence and emotional trauma; but keeping in line with the bluntness, the thrill is relatively simple in its delivery despite instrumental proficiency.
The winning point of the album is that it’s exciting, at least initially so— the sudden, explosive transition from the solemn introduction track “Vestal” to unbridled “Wounds” grabs attention immediately. There’s something uniquely uninhibited about I Will Guide Thy Hand, perhaps explained in part by its smooth shifts and fluid nature (for instance, the cascading riffs on “For Hope Lost”); it also seems that OLAM insert slowdowns at appropriate moments, though the way it’s done feels somewhat predictable as a whole (most tracks feature a reprieve of some sort around the midway point). The title track also changes things up by bringing in a slightly more optimistic tone and a glorious, sludgy passage that feels like a hard-earned victory, not unlike what Cult Leader do on “Isolation in the Land of Milk & Honey”.
I think I Will Guide Thy Hand derives much of its energy from being high-strung, anxious; while these sources suffice to keep things moving, I wish there was more nuance to the particular musical narrative of those two traits. This isn’t to say that a record can’t rely on just one or two dominant tones, but for much of the album there’s little progression in how that sense of anxiety and tension presents itself from song to song; part of the reason is that OLAM don’t quite commit themselves to any major changes in pacing apart from brief interludes. The title track is a step in the right direction, though it only comes at the end; it is proof, however, that OLAM are capable of executing a different mode. All this being said, there is a story of physical violence in the lyrics that qualifies the album as a whole — it clarifies the sadistic (and masochistic) edge that might otherwise have been too subtle to notice (for instance, the mid-section of “Ventriloquism” has a twisted, somewhat menacing dissonance).
As a debut, I Will Guide Thy Hand already contains ingredients for success — skillful instrumental performances, cohesiveness, an obvious thrill. Now, it’s just a matter of refinement and diversification; in the meantime, anyway, enjoy the satisfying fierceness that OLAM bring to the table.
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I Will Guide Thy Hand is available now via Bandcamp.