Review Summary: Om is where the art is
Literally translating from Sanskrit as “that which is sounded out loudly”, the Californian duo Om are a group which live up to first impressions yet demand further inspection and analysis. Formed from the lucid dreams of stoner rock behemoths Sleep, Om have blazed a trail that moves away from the bone-crushing riffs of their forebears and instead settles upon something more spiritual and transcendent; regularly bringing forth a quieter, more organic tone that appears to be in awed reverence of itself. Taking their lead from the structures of Tibetan and Byzantine chants, Om’s records offer more than the average release. Where most artists would be happy to lead the way, taking you the way they want you to go, Om offer you a number of paths. Indeed, their music has always evoked strong imagery pertaining to long journeys and arduous terrain with the promise of fulfilment and enlightenment awaiting you at the end.
, their fifth LP, represents the most complete and coherent example of Om’s modus operandi. The foundations laid on 2009’s God Is Good
have now become an integral part of the colossal structure that Om embody. Instruments like the cello, flute and other orchestral embellishments are used to fuller effect here, giving a richer, more worldly sound.
contains enough depth and openness to interpretation to make any writer’s ink or painter’ palette green with artistic envy. The overall concept appears to be one of a slow, dangerous journey from East Africa across the desert wastelands and a pilgrimage to the Middle Eastern holy lands. Opener “Addis” cites Addis Ababa, the Ethiopian capital and the primitive, sparse instrumentation give you a better impression of the city than any po-faced, two-dimensional guide book ever could. As bongo drums and a drawn out, mournful cello weave among a sultry female vocal in an unidentifiable language, one can almost feel the searing African heat, the slow grind of daily life and the splendid isolation our imaginary wanderer must feel.
Of course, given Om’s former life it’s difficult to think that the tempo would never rise. “State Of Non-Return” is at once a shot in the arm and a sedative; Al Cisneros’ twisted, lurching and distorted bass line juxtaposing with the calm and mantra-like incantations of his vocals. Imagine that our traveller has met a wild-eyed Bedouin prophet with many facets and faces. Drummer Emil Amos delivers his best performance here, a testament to both talent and restraint.
The album’s last three tracks clock in at a wondrous 32:08. The scope and ambition deployed are enough to rival both their contemporaries and otherwise. “Gethsemane” is festooned with a sinister momentum; Amos’ cymbals ringing out like a warning siren as the song winds through something of a seven-minute outro. The religious connotations of “Gethsemane” are obvious, but it’s never as simple as that. Remember, Om don’t want to tell you where to go. The song *might* be about the betrayal of Jesus or it might be about the concept of betrayal itself. It might even be just a cool word to use and get people guessing. That’s the beauty of it.
Crawling towards the end of the journey, “Sinai” introduces us to a manic call-to-prayer over crackling speakers as Cisneros describes a number of priests descending in Lebanon. The last stop on this pilgrimage resides in “Haqq Al-Yaqin”, translated as “the total reality as certainty.” These ancient words concentrate on the notion of certainty as supreme truth. With its obtuse rhythm and the inevitably impenetrable lyrics, Om offer their own truth, one with many questions and answers. Destined for much bigger and better things, for them the journey has only just begun.