I’m not particularly down with “real metal” or “true metal” or “authentic european black metal” – I know some forms of cultural transmission are more “pure” than others, and some are more like chow mein. That’s ok, though, because while I don’t like chow mein, I also recognize not everyone wants to eat “thousand year egg” and other traditional dishes. Tradition, sometimes, is gross and was only eaten because there was nothing else to eat.
So let’s eat, slowly.
Two of the guys from Sleep went on to form Om, probably because they got sick of having such a long band name and wanted to save on ink costs. And instead of singing about the weed, the songs are now about…stuff. What kind of stuff, I don’t know because the singer is just kinda mumbling in tune. This is, however, a good mumble. It’s the sort of mumble that says “You can’t tell what I’m getting on about, but we spent a lot of time making sure it sounded good.”
This is not a bad thing in the slightest a because Om is straight up delicious. But before getting back to their general excellence, let’s get the issue of nomenclature out of the way.
I don’t know if they’re “stoner metal” or “doom metal” because:
a) all music is “stoner” music because the entire music industry is high out of its fucking mind RIGHT NOW
b) “doom” is a silly name for a genre. What it really means is “slow” with a dash of “heavy” – an adjective that also generally means “slow and distorted.” And Om is on far more of a dark, almost mellow “heavy” rather than a grinding “heavy” or an “adult onset diabetes heavy.”
So here’s how it works – bass + drums + mumbling = AWESOME. Most of their tracks are long and tend to meander around a slowly drifting bass theme; vocals play an accompanying role to the bassline, while the drums really drive the song forward and add punctuation to what would otherwise be 10 minutes of the same bass piece with slight variations.
Out of their two last releases, I have to heartily recommend Conference of the Birds above Pilgrimage, though both are excellent recordings. For starters, Conference of the Birds is more epic – two tracks, about 15 minutes each; two themes, two grooves, two experiences. Matches beautifully and has that time machine effect back to the late 60s, when musicians would have bowl cuts and perform while burning incense (or so PBS has told me). Pulsing and throbbing, it’s a really beautiful album that I can’t imagine anyone not at least being able to tolerate, if not actively enjoy.
Pilgrimage builds off this earlier legacy in most of the right ways, alternating between the loud and the soft, playing around with the more repetitive, “mantra-like” (sigh) qualities of the synthesis of mumbly vocals and subdued bass and using them to space the “aggressive” louder segments. Now, it’s not very aggressive, but it suffers from what I like to call “Steve Albini disease.”
Now, Mr. Albini knows more about music recording while sleepwalking than I do while awake; but he tends to do two things to the bands he records – buries the vocals and other key elements, which tends to muddy things, and has the most annoying tendency to go from being really really soft TO AS LOUD AS IT GOES WHAT? WHAT? I CAN’T FUCKING HEAR YOU THANKS MR. ALBINI.
For example, “Unitive Knowledge of the Godhead” – the second track on the album – follows the ultra-minimal title track with about 50 seconds of near silence (there’s some noodly stuff in the background) before the track grinds to a start. It’s one thing to express dynamics, particularly in a world enamored with the loudest possible tracks with absolutely no changes in volume levels, but it just seems like every time I pick up an album that does this, Mr. Albini is involved in some way.
Or maybe I’m just a wuss. Regardless, Pilgrimage is hardly ruined by this, and as annoying as I find the phenomenon, I’m still listening to the record at least once a week. The reprise of the title track is a nice bookend, keeping in touch with various circular themes which may or may not be expressed in the lyrics. I don’t actually know what’s being expressed in the lyrics because ever since I read the lyrics to the Sleep classic “Dopesmoker” I refuse to play that game.
Stuff that works sonically don’t necessarily work on a literary level, and may actually cause you to laugh until you hurt yourself.
Addendum: I had tickets to see these guys last week and the show was canceled. Boo! Found out today that the drummer left the band to go play with someone else’s pokemons. But Om will continue on it seems – good luck, gents.