Ohhms: A tale of tarot cards and doom


Canterbury sludge demons Ohhms are streaming their debut album The Fool exclusively with Metal Hammer. Hitting shelves on March 31 via Holy Roar Records, it’s a bulldozer-heavy slice of doom and vitriol, taking cues from Sabbath, Sleep, Torche and Mastodon.

Formed in 2014 by vocalist Paul Waller, Paul tells Hammer that Ohhms is the result of him feeling “burnt out” from previous musical endeavours that failed to take the next step. Quitting making music to become a music journalist, Paul interviewed Steve Hackett from Genesis, Michael Gira from Swans and Steve Ignorant from Crass in the space of a week, and it changed his life.

“Although all three of those guys couldn’t be further apart musically they were all so utterly inspiring to spend an hour or so of my life with that by the time those interviews were in print I had already contacted the last of my musician friends and we had formed Ohhms.”

Two EPs later, and the band are on the edge of unleashing their debut album The Fool onto the world. It’s a brain-mangling journey through divination and fate, as told through Waller’s barbarous wails and neck-snapping riffs.

We had a quick chat with Paul to dig deeper into the story behind the album.

What inspires you creatively?

“I draw most of my inspiration and drive from music and art. I love my scuffed-up vinyl copy of Sabbath’s debut album just as much as I love staring at Lee Krasner’s Gothic Landscape in the Tate Gallery. Also, I listen to new music every day, finding new bands to love and discovering old ones that I’ve missed along the way is massively rewarding, so whenever I feel down in the dumps, a great record or great work of art lifts me to where I want to be.”

What drew you to the doomier/sludgier end of metal?

“Discovering Conan and Slabdragger thanks to Holy Roar Records; I was already a fan of Candlemass and Eyehategod and a few key others of note, but Holy Roar introduced me to the underground and I just ran with it, to the point where I maybe overindulged. There is so much crap out there but the great stuff always shines through.”

It feels like the doom scene is thriving at the moment, is that something you agree with?

“In the underground definitely, but like all rock, hardcore and metal scenes, it’s way beyond saturation point, but it doesn’t take too much to stand out from the pack. I’d love for a band to break through, to sell a serious amount of records and to be able to shake things up once again – there’s a bunch of bands on the cusp but something always happens to cut their momentum. It’s a real shame. Imagine if an arty drone band like Sunn O))) released an album that united the metal hordes, like Mastodon did with Leviathan, with that stage show and the overall image they could smash it. I think about this stuff way too much.”

What is the meaning and concept behind The Fool?

“For the purpose of our album, The Fool is the protagonist and the music is ordered in a way that tells the tale of his journey through the Major Arcana tarot deck. The song subjects are based around the characters that he meets on his travels through the deck – whether he makes it to the end of the album with his sanity in tact is open to interpretation. We included a lyric sheet so those that are into the concept can make up their own minds, but if you are not into that sort of pretentious nonsense then we made sure to include as many killer riffs as we could to ensure you at least leave the album with one hell of a bangover.”

What is the story behind the epic closing song The Hierophant?

“I know it’s a buzz word right now, and I am pretty reluctant to make a big thing of it because as a race, humankind suffers in differing degrees with this, but it’s about coming to terms with depression, simple as that, and it’s the only song I’ve written about ‘feelings’. I just needed a release; some of these lyrics have been in my notebooks for around ten years, some are brand new, and when the guys presented this song in its almost-finished form I was in a particularly bad place, so it all came spurting out. I listened back recently and it’s heartbreaking in places, I just feel so lost at times. I don’t think recording the song helped any, either. If anything, it makes it worse because it’s there forever now, documented.”

Do you think you’ll ever perform it live?

“We already have, which is mad when you think about it. We have only just started to gain an audience that knows our back catalogue and three times now we have opened with this sprawling 20-minute monster that refuses to end. We don’t make things easy on ourselves, that’s for sure. Saying that, those final eight minutes are my favourite eight minutes that Ohhms has written thus far. It’s mental. You cannot just stand still with your hands in your pockets watching that. No way.”

What is the story behind the album artwork?

“After our first EP was released, we commissioned Black Sails Design in Italy to design a full set of Major Arcana tarot cards for us to include with the album. Every month I would get a ping in my inbox with a new design, it was a magical time and I was proper gutted when the mammoth task was completed, but also really excited to be able to share these artworks with the world. Three cards have been randomly inserted into each physical copy of the album so that each person that has one will have their past, present and future cards as part of the overall package. It’s turned out just how we planned it and I have to give our record label their due here. They were up for the concept and the inevitable extra cost from the beginning. Holy Roar believed in us from the off so we were very lucky in that aspect.”

What is the end goal for Ohhms?

“I can’t speak for the others, but I have already achieved my goals with Ohhms. When we formed all I wanted was to record a slab of vinyl that I was proud of and to have a label release it. I also wanted to play our local music festival called Hevy Fest, and we achieved all that within our first year of existence. After that we converged at our practice rooms and had this weird meeting – should we split or go on and push it? Like, not compromise artistically but simply push the band as far as we can go. Obviously we chose the latter, but we still have a massive way to go.

“All this other stuff, like being flown all over Europe to play festivals and getting all this positive press and appearing in magazines that I still subscribe to today, that’s all fantasy stuff. In all truth, the end game for me now is just to connect with those that hear our music, whether the lyrics move you or the melodies creep under your skin, or even if it’s just a case of the riffs lighting that fire in you that make you want to just rage, it’s all cool. If our music connects with you in the same way that it does with me, well then, we have already won.”

The Fool is released March 31 via Holy Roar Records and is available to pre-order now.

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Luke Morton joined Metal Hammer as Online Editor in 2014, having previously worked as News Editor at popular (but now sadly defunct) alternative lifestyle magazine, Front. As well as helming the Metal Hammer website for the four years that followed, Luke also helped relaunch the Metal Hammer podcast in early 2018, producing, scripting and presenting the relaunched show during its early days. He also wrote regular features for the magazine, including a 2018 cover feature for his very favourite band in the world, Slipknot, discussing their turbulent 2008 album, All Hope Is Gone.