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I anticipated this album with an enormous desire. You know, one often anticipates their favourite bands' albums and expects a lot - this was the case with myself and this release. Oh God, how I hoped it will be as good as the previous albums and indeed my eager anticipation had paid off very well. I didn't think that it was possible for Al to outreach himself, but again - he did. How does the guy do it? I have no idea, but I only now that he has created once more a really diverse and great album. I know that some people find "God is good" as a weaker album, but in my opinion everything in the Om list is second to none. There is no other band whose music sounds so religiously and absurdly high and close to God. Maybe only Sleep, funnily enough. Al Cisneros has this ability of creating these profoundly good masterpieces of music, be it fucking heavy stoner doom or Om's strange mixture of religious bass-influenced Indian/Arabic holiness.
I'm not going to dissect this album commenting techniques or to present any band history or info for the band members. If this is what you seek - there are already other reviews and not only on this website, you can go read them. My review is only about the feelings. Because Om as a band is totally different from any other band and so is the music. And with the absence of guitar players what could you expect? Om consists of only two members and it results in the "oddness" of the tunes - which are about opening your inner self.
First and foremost, if you have never listened to the band - there is nothing metal here, so don't expect that. There is even no stoner. As I said to my best friend when she asked me to recommend her Om songs - you have to be ready for a band like that. It's not something you play to your roommates hoping they will get it. To embrace their concept and art, to listen not only with your ears, but with your inner self. In my opinion, to wholly enjoy this band, you have to gather some knowledge about the Eastern philosophies and the Bible, but that's another story.
Advaitic songs resembles all previous records concerning the concept and partly the music. It's not as droney and In this one the religious idea and the one about emerging from your temporary body to unite with the universe is even stronger. There are certain songs like "Sinai" which sound very much like the kind of music pilgrims would listen to in a Hindu temple. What may put down someone is that the use of heavy bass is not so common, meaning that there are songs in which it is barely as heavy and as present as you would expect for an Om album. However, it is compensated with other means. The use of cello is very audible. The addition of female vocals, piano and tambura also makes this album greatly varied and it is obvious that a lot of work has been put into it. One song in which the bass riff is like a foundation for the other instruments (including the voice) and therefore really audible and strong is the fantastic "State of Non Return". It has one of the best lyrics in Al's career and is actually the most "heavy" and not so transcendental song regarding the music as it's angrier and a lot more dynamic than the others.
"Traveler now reach the stream. The astral flight adapter.
From the pain-sheath life ascends - the Non-returner sees.
Empathy release me - and the phoenix rise triumphant.
And walks onto the certitude ground - the soul's submergence ends. "
My personal favourite (or second prize holder) is "Gethsemane". A little history:
"Gethsemane is a garden at the foot of the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem most famous as the place where, according to the gospels, Jesus and his disciples are said to have prayed the night before he was arrested, the day before his death. " Reading this you can imagine the concept behind the song. I myself always visualise in my mind a sort of a high celestial mount where priests have gathered in long robes. Al's vocals are really strong and slow as if he has a mission to tell a story from the Bible, not to sing his own lyrics. Drums and bass unite together to perform one of the most well-structured and balanced Om tunes ever. The song starts in this rather slow, "introductory" pace, like a mist forming near the top of a high mountain. The use of many instruments helps further for the creation of the magical atmosphere, especially the cello. I'd mark the cellist with an "A", but unfortunately I don't know his/her name.
All songs on "Advaitic songs" are a fine piece of work. It is obvious that all the musicians, apart from Al and Emil, have put a great deal of soul and professionalism in it. It wouldn't have been complete without the fine use of cello and the female vocals in "Addis" and the gospel singing in "Sinai". These make the record really weird, but at the same time something you haven't heard before. I really like spinning this without missing a song or feeling bored for a second. This release is really a state of art, even on the Al Cisneros scale.
The bassist and vocalist of stoner metal group Sleep joined forces with the drummer of the Eastern-themed post-rock instrumental collective known as Grails to put out one of the most eclectic and anticipated albums of 2012. This isn't the first OM record to feature Al Cisneros, Emil Amos, and their resulting collision of Oriental expertise, as 2009's God is Good marked the beginning of a new chapter in the OM saga. Advaitic Songs acts as a continuation of that album, and should not be listened to out of context, though will definitely hook new listeners looking for a refreshing burst of different music.
The duo that comprised OM originally featured Cisneros on bass and now-retired drummer Chris Hakius, who both made up the rhythm section of Sleep in the great and late 1990s. Hakius left OM during one of their most transcendental of periods; the music made a smooth transition away from the fuzzy stoner bass lines and hypnotic drumbeats that were predominant on 2005's Variations on a Theme and 2006's Conference of the Birds, which were both elements that OM fans have come to know and love. What we have here now is something much more complex than groove and rhythm. Amos' experience with Grails' signature Eastern oriental post-rock sound has pleased the Indian scale-toting and bong-huffing Cisneros, leaving two incredibly talented musicians to see perfectly eye to eye.
This year's Advaitic Songs falls nothing short of the meaning of the word “different,” as auxiliary instruments such as sitars, tanpuras, cello, and flute are blended into the mix, sometimes superimposing over Cisneros' bass, occasionally allowing him to play parts that act as accompaniments. It is very clear that a duo is not playing this music, but that is nothing to fret about. OM welcomes frequent collaborator Robert Aiki Aubrey Lowe (90 Day Men, Lichens) as a regular feature in both the studio and in live settings to make these auxiliaries come to life, as well as celloist Jackie Perez Gratz of Giant Squid and Grayceon fame, among other talented instrumentalists.
It's almost safe to say that Advaitic Songs is more of a collaborative effort between the stoner core of the duo and the many nostalgic Eastern flavors that Amos and Cisneros have striven to bring to the table all along, rather than being just a collaboration between the duo and a horde of instrumentalists. This is the sound that OM's been trying to achieve, and the inclusion of Amos and Lowe into the picture has indeed supplemented that ideal sound. Advaitic Songs will leave long-time listeners enlightened, new listeners in a delightful trance, and all listeners in a very dizzy spell, which is inevitable when you end up mixing together all of the stoner herbs and Eastern spices that both Cisneros and Amos are responsible for concocting. This is a tasty album indeed, and one I'll be often revisiting when I need a break from the usual rock band outfit.
As Om ages, they press for slowly-shifting landscapes that swirl like smoke around the listener as opposed to the hard-hitting heavy-as-hell doom fest they used to go for. Their newest album, Advaitic Songs, is a great example of Om’s strong musicianship and yet again does not fail to bring their music to a higher level than before. Again they’re trying new things via layered instruments from tempura to cello that seem like natural accelerants and important pieces to the music. Though I initially missed the 15 or 20 minute epic songs that Om are known for, they are made up for by the great material here.
The middle-eastern philosophical vibe is laid down thick and heavy here as a chanting voice sings the Sanskrit Mahamrityunjaya Mantra (known in English as the Great Death-Conquering Mantra of Hindu origin). The production is made so that the voice echoes as if over a great room, soon followed by a tribal beat and the occassional touch of rhythm and melody that builds and builds until the music is almost orchestral. And with that the shivers in my spine start, and they don’t stop until the album is over. The ominous trance that Om weaves hardly fades throughout either.
Perhaps it’s because of how great the production of the album is. Don’t worry—in songs like State of Non-Return, there’s plenty of burning, crunching bass guitar, distorted as any song off Pilgrimage or Variations on a Theme. The clarity of the backing instruments is really phenomenal. The way every instrument works in their own level so that no other is obscured, the way the vocals pierce them—there’s so much clear attention paid to the production and the result is full of emotion and tone and moodiness. Nothing feels stripped-down or bare here, and because of that every new instrument, brought in as each song progresses, totally changes the course of the song as it pulls its own weight. The winding way the music runs and flows like river water was enough to justify my completely blind buy of the record. I’m glad I wasn’t deterred by the album art of Christ. I would get into all the philosophical implications of featuring Jesus on the cover of an album obviously dedicated to Eastern beliefs, but that’s probably here nor there.
There’s a great range on Advaitic Songs. Calm serenity can be replaced by heavy sludge and low-key, almost gothic doom without catching on itself and sounding forced. Songs use melody heavily here and there, but also go for slow drone vibes similar to some of Earth’s music. The album comes at the listener in great waves one at a time, each tide bringing more forward that pushes along not only the song itself but the album as a whole. It is an album with a clear direction, one that leaves the listener in a different place from where it started. It is almost like a reverse-image of the band’s previous album God Is Good, where instead of long tracks becoming shorter and shorter as the album goes on, the songs spread out wide and become longer, explore more places, dance in different planes. Long sections of minimalistic note-playing and quickly-timed rhythms played loud and heavy juxtaposing them. It’s clear Al Cisneros learned a hell of a lot from being in Sleep about placing and spacing notes to create different effects, and those effects are explored thoroughly here. There are so many breathtaking moments created as a result of the way the instruments work on each other that I would go so far as to call this Om’s best album so far (although their two albums before this are still very close in the same field). A string section may be present, but Om is conservative and precise in their utilization, saving them for a sweet moment placed perfectly within the heart of a song instead of exploiting their newfound guest musicians throughout the song. Just because the instrument is there, doesn’t mean you need it to permeate every second of the moment with all the subtlety of a caveman (you hear that, Dimmu Borgir?).
The album has five songs (the most songs any Om album has ever had, by the way), and each of the songs has its own place in an elaborate tapestry of culturally-saturated ominous meditational music. Advaitic Songs only further solidifies this band as one of my favourites. To date not one of their albums has been lacking anything, and yet every album brings something more to the table without collapsing under its own will to explore and shift the genre they are a part of. I really can’t say anything disparaging about this album. I guess I should point out that if you’re more into Om’s earlier super-heavy bass-laden stoner/doom, you may find a lot of Om’s earlier heaviness lacking. There is no “Bhima’s Theme” or “On the Mountain at Dawn” here, but I think the band still knows very well what it’s doing and it’s still worth a listen. Al’s bass guitar may not be overwhelmingly present, here usually sitting behind various stringed instruments as a foundation rather than an outer structure, but hey, I have three other albums where his bass is loud and proud, and I think that this shift came to Om naturally.
Hands down, the best track here is the closer, Haqq al-Yaqin. It easily takes the prize as the most elaborate structuring of flow and instrumentation, the range of instruments working extremely well in the song’s favour. A traditional Om first few minutes, with Al chanting in his usual tone, laying down poetic lyrics over a tribal drum beat and the patterned appearance of cello and violin. Here the music really takes hold of you—it’s impossible to avoid moving your head to the beat of this song. Especially as Al’s voice fades away and allows a slew of various instruments to take up his space with great intertwining melodies, even bringing in an acoustic guitar later on. The emotion is deep and raw, the music in itself haunting and giant.
Advaitic Songs is probably a great way to start off on listening to Om. It flawlessly blends the atmosphere of Hindu-esque world music, the melodies of rock and folk, the grandeur and power of doom and drone. The fact that I bought this without having heard a song off it and still ended up enjoying every minute of it shows you how well Om can please the listener. Advaitic Songs may take a few listens for someone not quite so accustomed to the style of music to enjoy, but I think there’s a lot here for a lot of people, and it’s a definite must-buy for Om fans and anyone into dark but beautiful music executed with intelligence.
Originally posted on: http://www.spirit-of-metal.com/
On Album No 5, Om move deeper into meditative, devotional religious territory with a strong mystical Orientalist slant while maintaining an ever more tenuous link to their droning minimalist doom metal origins. If you can accept Om for what the duo have now become, this album "Advaitic Songs" is not bad on technical grounds: it has a very clear and precise sound and much of the album combines "world music" influences and Western rock, orchestral and chamber music elements very skilfully and harmoniously.
The opening track "Addis" states the dominant musical and lyrical direction with a female vocalist singing a Sanskrit hymn from the Rigvedas (the early sacred texts of ancient India) yet the title of the piece suggests Om are looking towards Ethiopian Christianity as an inspiration. Then, as if to reassure listeners (or maybe tease them), we have second track "State of No Return" which features the only doom metal on this recording of the kind we knew Om for: heavy, crushing bass-heavy riffs and no-nonsense drumming carrying violin and delicate piano melodies for some time before they finally take off gracefully and fly far afield, the bass and percussion following respectfully. In this song, the traveller referred to on previous Om albums has reached a promised land and enters a new world, figuratively and literally.
The next three tracks are roughly 10 minutes long each (give or take a minute) are quite pleasant to hear but seem a little confused, as if not sure they want to leave the familiar heavy drones and percussion of old Om but aren't quite ready for the quieter, mellower sonic pastures promised by the earlier songs. Comparisons can be made between this in-between, ambiguous Om with the combination of surprisingly heavy drumming and deep (though not very) bass and lighter strings and instrumentation, with the Canadian post-rock band Godspeed You Black Emperor, though Om have a more even, laid-back approach that does not need to rely on forced drama and sledge-hammering home to the point of tedium a message of social justice. Of these songs, "Sinai" begins well with an eerie atmosphere of still, calm synth-generated effects and a sample of chanting vocals before sliding into yet more heavy lumpen percussion, dark-toned cello and silvery sitar: the music sounds fine but the pace is too fast and the drums too overbearing to maintain the needed quiet ambience which slips away quickly and is never regained. "Haqq al Yaqin" has a beautifully dark mood thanks to the quartet of cello, double bass, cymbal and tabla that accompany Cisneros's whispered vocals; again though the rhythm feels rushed and there's a rigidity arising from the repetition of the jerky melodic leitmotif that acts as a straitjacket on the whole song and blocks the song's flow. More stringed instrumentation including electric lead guitar joins in the track's later instrumental passages but this is not enough to overcome the song's leaden structure and soar into the air.
Although the music is very good, on the whole listening to it is frustrating: I thought I would hear something very flowing, deeply immersive and absorbing all my attention with deep calm sounds, free from the strictures and limitations of the known sonic universe. I feel that, having reached a certain level of spirituality, the music ought to have gone into something more or less free-form with a lot of improvisation, Eric Amos free to experiment with his drumming and cymbal work and the sounds of the bass guitar, strings and other instruments manipulated to create very sinuous music that ebbs and flows like the rhythm of breathing. Instead we are treated to songs that seem very restrained and Earth-bound with their repetitive rhythm and melody loops. Hopefully on the next album Om have enough confidence to move into more flowing and less structured music: the droning doom metal of earlier albums could be drafted in again to help provide that hypnotic, immersive impetus and this would satisfy long-time Om fans who miss the doomy metal elements.
The Sanskrit hymn sung in the first track is part of a longer mantra known as the Maha Mrityunjaya mantra or the Great Death-Conquering mantra. This suggests that the theme of bird flight on earlier Om albums might be a metaphor for death and the soul's journey towards reincarnation.
Writing for a rock and metal site as I am here, it is somewhat odd to be reviewing a band which contains no guitarists in its line-up, the instrument one would have thought is the very essence of these great genres. But with Om, formed from the ashes of stoner rock legends Sleep for those not in the know, the crunch of the guitar riff has been replaced by the tuneful, seismic rumble of Al Cisneros bass sound and a meditative, Hindu percussive performance which results in this great act sitting on the very boundaries of rock music.
Having moved away from the more droned bent of their earlier records, on LP 5 "Advaitic Songs" showcases an increased emphasis on the lead qualities of the cello and Eastern percussion, as best served in "Addis" and 11-minute closer "Haqq al-Yaqin" where Cisneros' plodding bass sits behind trancelike Eastern hand-drum rhythms. Right from the band name, Om have always borrowed liberally from the meditative qualities of Arabic and Indian derived music to create the kind of long songs more suited to deep relaxation (perhaps under the benefit particular substances, I wouldn't know...) than the kind of explosive energy I am used to reviewing. Emerging with smooth female vocals, first track "Addis" works from a very deep bass tone and descending piano riffs to create a very down-tempo opener; "State of Non-Return" soon brings in the first example of Cisneros' bass taking the charge; deep, heavy and hazy, it sits with his clear vocal style to generate a huge desire in the listener to nod his head along to the beat.
"Gethsemane" is a quasi-drone tune, working from spacey synth noises, a slow drumbeat and Cisneros' sparse vocals for a quite delicate collaboration of Western and Eastern drone music. "Sinai" is very indicative of Om's style - slow droning intro met with dissonant chanting before the low bass tones and cello join the party to provide impetus for the song's 10-minute length.
Unlike past Om albums which have grabbed me more instantly than "Advaitic Songs" has instead grown with each listen as extra dimensions in the already simplified production emerge to create a release greater than the sum of it's parts. Being essentially a drone, doom and world music album all in one you get a glorious wealth of styles come together in the addition of another string to Om's colourful bow.
Originally written for www.Rockfreaks.net