Release Date: Jul 24, 2012
Record label: Drag City
Review Summary: Om is where the art isLiterally 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.
Like much of the music Al Cisneros has produced throughout his career, the evolution of Om has been a slowly unfolding thing. The duo, originally consisting of Cisneros on bass/vocals and fellow ex-Sleep member Chris Haikus, initially took the aesthetic of their former band's swan song opus Dopesmoker, and simply elevated the content and goals. These early dispatches were obscenely heavy slabs of doom, delivered in hypnotizing loops, topped with Cisneros' mantra-like incantations that invoked countless religious symbols and icons.
Living in an increasingly secular society has many advantages (we’ve more freedom to live how we want and love who we want without worrying about incurring the wrath of the Invisible Policeman in the Sky) but it also has some drawbacks. Two of the things that you lose when you live in a godless world are the sense of ritual (the bells and smells of the Catholic mass or its equivalent) and a sense of deeper or transcendental meaning. These are exactly the sorts of things that OM’s new record, Advaitic Songs, will try to give back to you.
As the era of legendary stoner metal outfit Sleep came to a close, bassist Al Cisneros and drummer Chris Hakius moved on to form the experimental, droning metal of OM. Hakius later left and his spot was filled by Grails percussionist Emil Amos. The band in its new iteration has pushed further into psychedelia and mysticism, the slow-churning oceans pushing for something like a religious ecstasy.
Defining a post-metal genre cultivated and nurtured by Eastern meditation and drug-fueled interpretations of trance-inducing rhythms, Al Cisneros and Chris Hakius, the rhythm section of the legendary doom metal band, Sleep, formed OM, which served as a stripped down continuation of Sleep’s immense sound and Sabbath worship. The duo’s expansive, audible journeys functioned through cyclical bass rhythm and a voluminous clangor of percussion, maintaining a meditative drone of instrumentation that seemed isolated as in prayer or internalized reflection. The duo’s 2006 release, Conference of the Birds, is two tracks clocking at just over 30 minutes, unifying both the powers of the entrancing loop and the prominence of distorted groove.
Now five studio albums deep, Om still operate from under the shadow of monolith-metal weed-prophets Sleep, from whose considerable ashes they emerged. Guitarist Matt Pike took their über-metal ethos and tabletop gaming imagery to High On Fire; bassist Al Cisneros and drummer Chris Hakius bagged the shamanic trance atmospheres for Om. Hakius left in 2008, though, to be replaced by Emil Amos, and a lot of fans will tell you Om ain’t been the same since.They’re right, in the sense that only very rarely does ‘Advaitic Songs’ (five tracks, 43 minutes) unleash a nostalgically doomy riff.
Om is a band that plays heavy music, and in their music they sing about heavy things: "Empathy release me," goes one passage on Advaitic Songs, "and the phoenix rise triumphant. And walks onto the certitude ground-- the soul's submergence ends." As syntax, it's absurd. As content, it's absurd. That doesn't matter.
Calling OM a traditional doom/stoner band is not only musically incorrect, but lazy. Founder Al Cisneros intentionally strayed from his most well known project, Sleep, into a musical collaboration that speaks to his spirituality and a more introspective phase of his life. OM's fifth album, second with drummer Emil Amos, Advaitic Songs is rich and lush, adding harder layers to their traditional psychedelic, Middle-eastern sound.
I'm beginning to think those who lament Om's stylistic changes since 2007's Pilgrimage are somewhat missing the point. Yes, I miss the monolithic, stretches-your-sense-of-time-to-breaking-point heaviness of Variations on a Theme, their superlative debut, but as early as its follow-up, Conference of the Birds, they were toying at the frayed edges of this bone-crushing formula, with 'At Giza' being performed at a level best described as mellow, so this is by no means a new thing. In fact, from Pilgrimage-onwards, it's hard to look at Om as a "metal" band at all, at least not in the simplest sense, although their approach seems to be pursuing the Sabbathian ethos much more intricately and determinedly than most of their contemporaries.
Om’s material on LP five is more glorious and all-consuming than ever before. Alex Deller 2012 When legendary stoners Sleep were put to bed back in 1998, the three members would go on to chart very different trajectories. Matt Pike embraced his grizzled metal roots with the marvellously heavy High on Fire while rhythm section Al Cisneros and Chris Hakius took what might be considered a loftier path by exploring Sleep's deeply meditative aspects with experimental outfit Om.