30 September 2009

Om – God is Good

Drag City (2009)

How minimalist can a band get? On its second album recorded by bare bones engineer Steve Albini, the hip-sludge veteran band find its duo halving, in an apparent attempt to find out. But ex-Sleep man Al Cisneros does have a little help from his friends.

Om made their name after the death of stoner doom legends Sleep by doing what they do best: heavy riffs, and lots of them. Self aware if nothing else, their debut was named Variations on a Theme. But post-metal, like any chrono-centric sub-genre, ages rapidly, and what was once cool can soon find itself sounding hackneyed. Just ask Jesu.

Om is aware of this pitfall. The sludgy, repetitive riffing of the earlier albums has fallen by the wayside, seemingly sloughed off as a butterfly might forget its past as a caterpillar. That's not to say this is as bright or beautiful as such description might evoke. In fact this is more of a moth: refusing to draw attention to itself; at home in the must and dusk of the dimmest recesses.

As with your average moth, there is subtle variety and intrigue in current Om's earth-tone and darkness. The songs are shorter than they were on the first pair of Billy Anderson-produced records. Where once was no small amount of trepidation at slogging through another twenty minutes of riffs, there is now a healthy curiosity as to where Om will take us.

That is not to say Anderson is not a great producer (he's sorted Melvins, Neurosis and 7 Year Bitch at their peaks). It's also not to say there is no twenty-minute song on here. Unlike recent albums from Emeralds and James Blackshaw, the epic on this album is not the best. 'Thebes' has a repetitive charm, but its faux-mystical lyrics and vocal reliance on the root note mean it grates if you don't play its game.

The record really picks up on the other three songs. They are a combined fifteen minutes, and the journey on which they take us is far more satisfying. The middle-eastern themes on here, while preferable to High On Fire's Middle Earth aesthetic, are sonically fine while never threatening authenticity. The music generally is fantastic.

Mostly sounding only like Om, and like no Om in the past, there are some nods elsewhere. There is philosophical similarity to recent Earth, in that both bands have sacrificed bludgeon for trance-through-clarity. The sound on God is Good is clean, with a deep mix full of interesting instrumentation. There are even pipe-based moments that could have featured on Ghost's fabulous Hypnotic Underworld, from 2004.

As this decade ends, hopefully more bands take a leaf out of the books of Om and Earth. SunnO))) are certainly carving their own path, but there are too many me-too bands, making like an albatross round the neck of once inventive metal. Noisecore imploded at its peak, like a dying star, a decade ago. Can the post-metal masses please get their coats and shuffle out the door while a shred of dignity remains?

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