Review Summary: Interfaith heaviness - time to move beyond "stoner" tag.
Om plays unambiguously devotional music, even if they still can't shake their "stoner" "doom" and "metal" tags. Apparently that's what you get for previously being party to one of the greatest doom metal bands of all time.
The album kicks off with a solitary female vocal chanting Tryambakam, an ancient Sanskrit mantra, over electronic tabla, sparse bass and cello lines. Amos restrains himeself to tambourine jingles and a gong as the tune sets a pace and mood that does not let up until the closing track.
From there, State of Non-Return returns to Cisneros' favourite theme of non-duality (heard over and over again since Pilgrimage), describing the the journey of soul ascending beyond samsara, astral realms and at last the causal plane before merging with the Godhead.
Gethsemane and Sinai follow, both inhabiting the same sonic neighbourhood -- low tempo drumbeats, gurgling bass, cello licks and lyrics of ascent and descent. These two songs hang on endless drones -- an synth tanpura in the former, while the latter features a stunning vocal loop drone by Robert Aiki Aubrey Lowe (AKA Lichens), that calls to mind the lush overtone choral harmonies of David Hykes' legendary Hearing Solar Winds. Sinai also contains a chant that wouldn't sound out of place blared on a loudspeaker on the banks of Ganga.
The album is very heavy on bowed strings, to mixed effect. For the most part the cellos sound stiff, as if not fully embodying the music. Perhaps the cellists lack experience with Eastern musics to pull off the dynamics and microtonal inflections needed to make the strings truly shine.
The mood finally shifts with the final song, Haqq al-Yaqin, which opens with harmonium and tabla and features acoustic guitar (for the first time in an Om tune) and at last -- a different vocal melody! -- which almost sounds like "Ohio" by CSNY.
Cisneros' interfaith lyrics reference concepts, events and personalities from multiple religious traditions. Despite Om's heavy metal baggage, they would fit in well in the devotional scene, maybe even sharing the stage at Bhakti Fest and other kirtan-oriented festivals along side the likes of Krishna Das. Sure, they lack shakti street-cred, but that'd be easily fixed with a few Om Namah Shivayas here and there. I sincerely hope they consider this direction and spread their heavy awesome sound among the modern day hippy-devotee crowd, which could use a bit of edge these days.