Review Summary: Avant-doom duo opt for refining their sound instead of presenting something new, resulting in their best album so far.
If anything, bands like U.S. bass/drums duo Om prove that even the more obscure genres of rock music (the recent avant-doom-metal craze in this case) have their own AC/DC. You know exactly how an album of theirs is gonna sound before you’ve even heard a millisecond of it. I mean, don’t get me wrong, the band, consisting of bassist/singer Al Cisneros and drummer Chris Hakius, two thirds of stoner/doom veterans Sleep, have developed a highly original sound, mixing far-eastern temple music with 60’s psychedelic elements, pseudo-mystical lyrics, doom metal oomph and long-winded groove-driven “songs” that pushes some of the same buttons as classic German krautrock, but adds a “spiritual” edge. The problem is that Om essentially have two songs: The one with distortion and the one without. Their last album, Conference Of The Birds, released 2006, was kinda the apotheosis of this approach, with the two LP sides (or CD tracks) divided evenly between those archetypes.
However, their newest release Pilgrimage (out October 2 on Southern Lord Records), even if it doesn’t offer up anything new, but brings this s’hit in perfection. So, what’s better? Well, first of all, Pilgrimage contains the largest number of tracks (4), spread across the shortest length (30 mins) of any Om release yet, making it their most easily digestible album. None of the songs is a 16-minute mediation on a single riff that makes your attention wander, like At Giza from COTB. In fact, the songs are just long enough to keep your attention all the way through.
Secondly, the album’s been produced (sorry, recorded) by one Steve Albini, a man who I hold in very high regard, and not for nothing. While Billy Anderson’s more “warbly”, psychedelic production gave their previous two albums a distinct “stoned ramblings out of a long forgotten opium den” feel, Stevie A’s typical “crisp and clean” approach finally makes the music sound as meditative and esoteric as it should, sans annoying hippie/90’s stoner rock connotations. I mean, the opening title track is essentially the archetypical “clean” Om track, but hell, compare it to At Giza and then tell me it doesn’t sound way better without digital reverb and more accent on the drums/groove. This actually reveals Chris Hakius as a tight, driving drummer who doesn’t, unlike most of his sludgy colleagues, try to imitate Dale Crover’s asymmetric thumps and idiosyncratic fills. And on Unitive Knowledge Of The Godhead, Cisneros's distorted bass sounds like a distorted Tibetan temple bell instead of a Kyuss guitar, which is how it’d probably have come out, had Anderson produced it.
Another problem I had with the Cosmic Aum Boys’ (wouldn’t that be an awesome name for the 100th Acid Mothers Temple spinoff?) is gone as well. On their earlier albums, the heavy (i.e. distorted) sounded too much like Sleep (or Black Sabbath, respectively) and too ballsy in general, which destroyed the nice, esoteric atmosphere of the quieter (clean) stuff. On this release, they finally found out that distortion can have a meditative effect as well (this was released on Sunn O)))’s label, after all). The album’s prime heavy rocker, the 11-minute Bhima’s Theme is full of eastern-influenced droney sludge Rifferama (instead of the generic bluesy stuff of the last album’s Flight Of The Eagle), heavy, tribal drumming and Cisneros’s trademark soaring, chanted vocals. The way he doesn’t “rough up” and fall back to his old Sleep mannerisms for the distorto-pieces is admirable. Bhima’s Theme also marks the discovery on a new variation on their theme: The distorted track that has a clean part somewhere in the middle. Expect some loud-quiet action for their next album (not really though).
If anything, bands like U.S. bass/drums duo Om prove that refining the same formula over the course of three albums can yield results that are just as amazing as those of an act that changes its sounds from album to album.