Om's Holy Mountain...

Southern Lord
Released 10.2.07

Rating: 8.5 out of 10

Some people take their meditation really fucking seriously.

As the rhythm section for stoner metal band, Sleep, bassist Al Cisneros and drummer Chris Hakius updated Sabbath, providing their own take on the Ward/Butler juggernaut and bringing an air of “huh, wha…?” back into sludgy rock n’ roll. You can hear it within the first five seconds of Sleep’s Holy Mountain, that drowsy blues riff that starts off “Dragonaut.” The influence is evident, as is the scent of the secondhand air swirling around that studio.

As Om, Cisneros and Hakius’s entrancing bass/drum combo, they take the simplest and most repetitious song structures and turn them into these highly evolved and lengthy sound odysseys that simultaneously crush you underneath swells of thick bass and cymbal accentuation while setting you mentally adrift. Quite a feat. Think of it as Gregorian bass chant for Coltrane fans.

Pilgrimage, Om’s third LP, (and their most generous with 4 tracks, though one is a reprise), manages to be their most diverse though cleanest record. When I say clean, I mean that the distortion crawls through less murk to reach your eardrums. With 2006’s Conference of the Birds, especially with opener, “At Giza,” atmosphere was the main device. It didn’t quite eclipse the music, but the album itself had this feeling of a blue dawn or an isolated plain, which I found compelling. But hearing Pilgrimage, well-known iconoclast engineer Steve Albini’s focus on crunch and lessening of reverberating air, one can appreciate the weight with which Om throws down, even if it is for 11 minutes at a time.

With the title track, Cisneros reaches tribal proportions while he solemnly whispers his flatline vocal and fingerpicks something Middle Eastern, exploring a more refined and rhythmic sound. This track is the album’s bookend, with the reprise closing it off.

The chapters within are the tracks “Unitive Knowledge of the Godhead” and “Bhima’s Theme,” both of which kick the coma out of your system. “Unitive Knowledge of the Godhead,” being the shorter of the two, is sludgy and loud its entire length, while “Bhima’s Theme,” sort of a longer variation on “Godhead,” fades into a midway chant before the distortion comes back with a vengeance.

This band fascinates me. With only the most barebones of concepts, and very little as far as actual song variation, bridge or time signature, (not even choruses really), Om express a certain spirituality and manage to engage their audience when it would be so easy to alienate them. This is not an easy sell. To an extent, Om may even require a certain amount of fortitude to really get into, but they seem to be pulling it off. It’s either the music’s good, or they just really know how to induce a waking coma.

Letters From A Tapehead


Anonymous said…
Nice write up. I very much agree with your review. But still, I think I'm gonna start up a straight-edge stoner rock band. Is that even allowed?
Sean Caldwell said…
To Chris L:

If you're one of the few people that can actually wax existential about sobriety, more power to you.

Thanks for reading,
Letters From A Tapehead

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