I first discovered the group on Noisetrade, on which they had uploaded their debut, critically acclaimed album, Through the Deep Dark Valley. The group which is headlined by sibling duo, Tyler and Maggie Heath, has a unique artistry when it comes to their sound and their writing. Their superb sophomore album Dear Wormwood, is a concept album, taking inspiration from C.S Lewis' The Screwtape Letters. Supposedly picking up where Through the Deep Dark Valley left off, Dear Wormwood tells the story of a toxic and abusive relationship, told through letters written from the abused. Despite the dark material covered, the album is exuberantly energetic and ultimately uplifting. Lyrically, it's one of the best examples of song writing to come out in 2015.
The album begins with the atmospheric Prelude, where voices and instruments are heard from a distance, becoming more distinct as the song crescendo's into Bitter Water. Mandolins introduce the song, and a crash of vocals and percussion enter, offering an energetic and complex beginning to the story.
This is followed with There Beneath, an atmospheric and almost ethereal search for beauty and learning in everyday things. The scene beneath the willow tree is perfectly captured by the mood created by the synth instruments.
In The Blue Hours of Morning, introduces Exeunt, with a series of running scales on the string instruments. Exeunt, is a masterpiece of song writing, with many layers of instruments, and themes perfectly timed and positioned. It's a song of heartbreak, of the victim tearing themselves in their mind from the control of their abuser; "I have set my mind, and my will, I am leaving."
Caesar, is a quiet and reflective song where the character contemplates their next move. Still tormented mentally, the singer tries to looks for signs hope.
Hear on the wind how the pendulum swings
Feel how the winter succumbs to the spring
Over the palisade morning will break
Rise up to meet it, oh sleeper awake
...Look to the sky where the sign will be shown
Heaven and earth and the king on his throne
This Will End, questions the meaning of a life so burdened with suffering. It is a huge song, in very understated packaging, about looking for hope in a world that is dying.
No, I am not afraid to die
It's every breath that comes before
Heartache, I've heard, is part of life
And I have broken more and more
Pale White Horse is rife with biblical imagery. It has an almost otherworldly feel to it's instrumentation and vocals, which quietly build to a pinnacle culmination. The song is psychologically dark conversation with death.
This leads directly into Where is Your Rider, where the character once again faces their tormentor, this time seeing him for who he is: powerless against the Lord who has triumphed over death and Hades. This is followed by the exuberant Soldier, Poet, King, a gospel anthem, triumphantly heralding the future victory.
The title track, Dear Wormwood, is the by far the best on the album. This is a powerful meditation on all that has past. It is powerful in it's refrain "I know who you are now, I know who you are." It is a song both eerie and beautiful in it's vocalization and lyrics, and joyful and haunting in it's message.
Instrumental Danse Macabre takes influences from old medieval Europe in it's sound, and leads into the closing song Thus Always to the Tyrants.
Dear Wormwood is an accomplished, superb sophomore album from The Oh Hellos. The song writing is exceptional, and powerful, and the group's sound never fails to endear. If you have never listened to this group, I can't recommend them enough. I promise you, they will win you over.