Released: Monday 23 July 2012
When stoner-metal titans Sleep originally went their separate ways, we got two new bands; guitarist Matt Pike went on to form sludge-metal types High on Fire while the rhythm section decided on a much more interesting path. When Om released their debut album, Variations on a Theme, back in 2005 it was clear that Al Cisneros and Chris Hakius had a unique vision. Stripped of Pike's crushingly heavy guitar Om's sound was defined by Cisneros repetitious, driving bass and Hakius' hypnotic rhythms; a simple idea that made Om sound unlike anything else out there.
In 2008 Hakius packed up sticks and left the band after recording three albums. It was a fairly worrying bit of news as it was hard to imagine Cisneros continuing the band with anyone else; who could match their near-telepathic relationship? Thankfully, Emil Amos is a superbly accomplished drummer and filled the gap rather nicely. It was undeniable that Om had changed however. 2009s God is Good saw Om expand their sound to include richer textures than before, flutes and cellos weaving their way through Cisneros ever-distinctive bass. Amos also plays in instrumental rock act Grails, whose love of film scores and sweeping, prog-inclined pieces has definitely crept into the Om sound.
Advaitic Songs continues this progression and sees Cisneros and Amos expand the Om sound way past the bands stoner/doom-metal heritage. Things once described as 'metal' have been evolving for some time now. Just look at what Wolves in the Throne Room have done for black-metal, how Sunn0))) confounded expectations with 2009s Monoliths & Dimensions and how Dylan Carlson continues to push his Earth project into ever more avant-garde spaces. Metal has come a long way from being a refuge for Metallica-aping bores and old Slayer t-shirts (Slayer are good, though, obviously).
There's always been a spiritual/mystical element to Om's music; from Cisneros cryptic lyrics to the band's use of religious iconography in their artwork. This isn't something I take seriously (not being religious myself) but I don't think it needs to be taken on such a literal level either. Their use of imagery adds to the overall aesthetic, the sense of something deep and 'devotional' but open to interpretation. All of this seems far removed from Sleeps' manifesto; "Drop out of life with bong in hand" (from 'Dopesmoker'). If you're focussing too much on this stuff you're kind of missing the point anyway; it's the overall feel that's important here. I mean, I love David Lynch but I've never really been all that curious about transcendental meditation.
Anyway. 'Addis' starts the album with chanting female vocals, tablas and cello; there's a middle-eastern vibe here and a definite kinship with Earth's latest releases. It's a genuinely startling and beautiful piece of music which you'd be hard-pressed to describe as having anything to do with 'metal'. 'State of Non-Return' is somewhat heavier, Cisneros distorted bass driving the piece forward. There's unexpected string arrangements here too which add a touch of the majestic to the duo's sonic onslaught.
'Gethsemane' is the first track to stretch past 10-minutes with its dramatic, expansive soundscapes showing just how much Om have evolved. The hypnotic eastern drones that first appeared on God is Good run through the track too. 'Sinai' starts with a slowly creeping drone before a hypnotic Tibetan (I think) chant starts; the duo then effortlessly slide into a familiar Om groove, accompanied by cello and other rich instrumentation. 'Haqq al-Yaqin' is suitably epic, bringing different elements of the album together for a truly impressive closing piece. Cisneros haunting, chanted vocals (talking about "inward lights" and "karmic tombs") combine with the heavy, deep cello and Amos' reliably trance-inducing rhythms.
Some will claim that Om's sound has been somewhat watered down since their mighty debut album but I'd argue that they've merely done what any forward-thinking and talented band would do and expanded their musical horizons. Advaitic Songs is a richly textured, complicated monolith of an album and a two-fingered salute to the piles of unimaginative, dull music clogging up the airwaves. Whether you've been following Om from the beginning or are just hearing about them for the first time, you need to give Advaitic Songs a listen.