Review Summary: “I don't like wearing clothes for the most part, it gets very sweaty, there's a lot of spit...”
“Just [what] you didn't ask for: more fancy jazzy bullshit from SUMAC and some guy they tricked into playing with them. If you like racket this one's for you. Link in comments if you want to get it... but even if you make the mistake of buying and listening to it you still won't *get* it - cuz there's nothing to get. Smoke and mirrors folks, time to pull back the curtain and call bullshit on this charade of a band. Thanks for your support.”
– Santos Montano on Keiji Haino and SUMAC's Even For Just The Briefest Moment
Aaron Turner's tireless search for musical catharsis has led him down a cavernous rabbit hole with nary a barber in sight. Followers of the Old Man Gloom Facebook page (which is well worth the data-harvesting price of admission) will have seen how Santos – drummer, social media extraordinaire, and perhaps the only man brave enough to organise a Margarita Singles Mixer at Roadburn – loves to rip his mate to bits. Indeed, obtuse and improvised soundscapes of drone and noise have become something of a calling card for the metal world's busiest hobo, and SUMAC – his most prolific active project – have developed this tendency thoroughly enough that it has become their second defining trait, just behind the towering walls of mathematical mayhem that define their heaviest moments.
Enough about Aaron Turner though, because holy shi
t, how good are Nick Yacyshyn (drums) and Brian Cook (bass)? Their respective histories are mightily impressive, but their presence in this supergroup is something that every God-faring American should be expounding their gratefulness for over turkey and fireworks and pickup trucks or whatever it is that happens on Thanksgiving. Nick charges his way through the dense madness of SUMAC's crescendos with enough all-out, pummelling aggression to make an MMA fan pitch a tent. Meanwhile, Brian has perhaps the
tone that should act as a reference point whenever that classic reviewing adjective “snarling” comes up in relation to four-stringed thicc boiz, and his well-practiced accuracy in interplay ties this whole unit together.
Predictably, May You Be Held
is largely formed around the dichotomy between calculated aggression and winding digression. In an informative interview with Heaviest of Art (one of the more misleading URLs on the internet, the site contains a sick animated background that its creators insist is 'definitely smoke, not gas.') Aaron provided some illuminating context for how the band approached and utilised improvisation for this album: “...there were passages that were built into the two longest songs (“May You Be Held” and “Consumed”) where we knew we were gonna leave them open for interpretation. And the the other three pieces were all spur of the moment improvisations that happened in the studio. There was some shaping after the fact that kind of reinforced that initial things that we laid down, but ultimately the first, last and middle tracks are all built around just these completely free things that we did all at the end of the session after we had finished tracking the other basic pieces.”
May You Be Held
's sequencing belies a greater focus on exacerbating this dichotomy, and as such should hold the attention of that particular brand of SUMAC fan that hasn't been so invested in their more recent output. While the meandering opening track “A Prayer For Your Path” attacks with stabs of feedback and hoarse yelling for five minutes, “May You Be Held” is visceral in a way that will reach right into your reptile brain and have you throwing feces around in a kind of confused ecstasy until it ends. Noteworthy moments include Aaron's most deranged and crude lead break since “Rigid Man”, and the part where the noisy imrov cuts to silence before returning a couple of times, subverting the moment in which it feels as if the beat should drop Borgore style (I'm surprised about that reference too). “The Iron Chair” is a more expansive and expressive piece of improvisation than “A Prayer For Your Path”, with enough changes in pace that it's no slog to get through. “Consumed” follows this with drones that seems to surge from cracks in the earth's crust, eventuating in a sludgy death march that eventually dies itself, bringing us full-circle back to feedback-town. Rapid-fire drumming and inimitable harsh vocals dominate the closing minutes of the track, and the whole thing climaxes at speaker-blowing intensity. “Laughter And Silence” rounds us out with some hard-earned clean guitar noodling, a cheeky dash of organ, a slow build, and a surprising, slightly uneasy sense of peace. Given the noisy shi
tshow that preceded the track, it's hard to imagine a more fitting closer.
May You Be Held
isn't so much a return to form for SUMAC as it is a slight retreat from the deep end of the pool. This cleverly-arranged album rations out buoyancy to the drenched and drowning listener, throwing us ragtag pieces of flotsam and jetsam to keep us afloat before we're pummelled by the next wave. Ultimately we are transported to a tenuous and ephemeral safety. Although SUMAC may have conjured the tempest, our survival seems to be a result of their benevolence.
Or, ya know, it's all just some fancy, jazzy bullshi
t that we need to pull the plug on stat.