Like death and taxes, Oh Sees albums are inevitabilities. But John Dwyer doesn’t let this stop him from building anticipation for each album. By the time the first single and artwork have been revealed for a new album, fans are overrun with giddiness, not beleaguered by the pace at which Dwyer works.

‘Overthrown,’ the first single off the band’s latest, Smote Reverser, suggested an Oh Sees album for the ages and for the rages. Compacting every intense idea Dwyer has ever had in two minutes, ‘Overthrown’ is an assault on the senses that could only be embraced or scorned. Oh Sees have become more accessible in recent years while also retaining their weirdness. The destruction of ‘Overthrown’ won’t disturb anyone who dug Floating Coffin or Orc, but it does issue a snarling warning to newcomers: this isn’t just garage rock legacy act content to coast.

It turns out that ‘Overthrown’ doesn’t really represent Smote Reverser. In spite of the artwork making promises that even the most over-the-top metal acts couldn’t live up to, Smote Reverser has a strange sense of uncertainty. While Dwyer hasn’t veered away from his band’s unmistakable proggy garage rock sound, he doesn’t feel as invigorated as usual. The multiple flavors of Oh Sees are swirled together, and it ends up a bit diluted.

Energy has long been a defining aspect of Oh Sees. It’s propulsion, not hyperactivity, that carries their songs. Their songs gain second winds even before the first one is close to finished. Smote Reverser has the energy but not the momentum of past releases. When opener “Sentient Oona” climaxes, it doesn’t have that punch we expect. It’s not so much that Dwyer is subverting our expectations as he’s pulling out of his usual bag of tricks without his typical flair.

It’s still a solid bag of tricks and Smote Reverser is still a solid album. Two tracks are entirely instrumental but hold more weight than plenty of the vocal-led tracks. The 12-minute “Anthemic Aggressor” is by no means an epic, or even a particularly structured song, but the repeating bass riff and dissonant guitar carry it. Later, “Flies Bump Against The Glass” has much more of an arc thanks to the wah tone of Dwyer’s guitar and the beaming synths. Brigid Dawson’s vocal contributions on the first half of “Last Peace” recall her and Dwyer’s recent album as OCS, but the song’s turn for unhinged at the midway point is forced, especially the whimsical guitar melody towards the end. Considering the hushed intimacy of Memory of a Cut Off Head, it’s disappointing that Dwyer and Dawson don’t want to sustain some beautiful tension.

Examining the artwork and reading the lyrics might give you a more satisfying experience than listening to the album. Dwyer continues to write as if he’s continuously wielding a rusted sword and receiving sustenance solely from bogs that he comes across on his travels. Even if he’s just embracing fantasy and there’s no apparent narrative, he still puts in an effort. “Enrique El Cobrador” finds him as a punchdrunk warrior with an insatiable bloodlust. On closer “Beat Quest,” he’s momentarily wistful about a former ally’s death before determining how best to dispose of his body.

But we come to Oh Sees albums for the immediate, visceral impact. The staging of an action scene can read great on paper, but it needs the right direction to wow. Dwyer’s reputation for consistent quality, not frequent output, is what’s made his band so beloved. By no means does Smote Reverser signal a downward trajectory for Oh Sees. It’s just a reminder of how much better they are when working at their full potential.