posted on 10/2007 By:
It would have been hard to believe that the demise of doom titans Sleep would eventually pay major dividends to fans, but here we are, gifted with two of the year’s best albums, within less than a month of each other, no less. Their creative paths have gone in dramatically different directions of course; Matt Pike’s rip roaring High on Fire couldn’t be much different from the work of his ex-rhythm section, but both projects are ultra competent and alluring, and both push the bounds of the doom envelope from opposing sides. No doubt the uninitiated will have a hard time blindly accepting that a two-piece band of bass (and vocals) and drums can assemble wholly engrossing ten to fifteen minute songs, but those that have experienced Variations on a Theme and/or the band’s last effort, 2006's Conference of the Birds, can attest to Al Cisneros and Chris Hakius’ power to mesmerize. (What might turn a few heads is that Om’s formula is three albums in without losing an ounce of its effectiveness.) Much of this is due to their unique approach–the chanted vocals and repetitive, cloud-shaking, mountainous riffs, but as important is the fascinating way that a rhythm section can partner to each simultaneously provide both rhythm and melody and accent, creating a disarming amount of texture and depth, given the material’s minimal ingredients.
A look at the gorgeous cover art shows that the band have stuck with the flight theme, and the album’s title and artwork fit well with its opening title track, a serene mountain-top meditation that is the band’s most calming and spiritual sounding work yet. This unique, monastic stoner rock is propelled by bobbing, snake charming melodies, sublime minimalist, cymbal-heavy drumming, and quiet, smoothly chanted vocals. The three elements intermingle seamlessly and none outweighs the others. The thunderous discharge that opens following track, “Unitive Knowledge of the Godhead,” marks a shift, as the bass, which bobbed and weaved so seductively earlier now thrusts and writhes with a powerful, heaving buzz, and the drumming becomes far more heavy-handed and insistent while remaining admirably controlled. The album is rounded out by a closing reprise of “Pilgrimage” and “Bhima’s Theme, another marathon track that falls somewhere between the approach of the title track and the second, falling silent midway through and rebuilding with a single noodling bass line that’s joined by emphatic chanted vocals before lurching back into its noisy central theme.
Hakius and Cisneros produced Pilgrimage with engineering help from Steve Albini, giving a rich, vibrant sound to songs that are as good as any of Om’s past work. Hopefully the increased visibility from the move to Southern Lord will pay off with more recognition. This band certainly deserves it.
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