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I wasn't really looking forward to God is Good. Conference of the Birds had blown my mind earlier, and I mean seriously disfigured my brain (in the best way possible), and I thought God is Good was never going to live up to the genius and divine legend that is Conference of the Birds. I was also impatient at the time of my first listen, skipping the colossal 19-minute “Thebes” for the concise 6 and 3 minute songs that make up the rest of the album. In doing so I royally fucked up the experience. Thats the thing about Om and bands like Sleep and Kyuss and such; the albums are meant to be experienced, not just listened to. So, when I skipped “Thebes” I fucked up the flow of the album because “Thebes” is so vital to establishing the mood of God is Good. It starts off sparsely, with droning resonance, but then it becomes a more traditional Om song, and much like “At Giza” on Conference of the Birds, it kicks off the pilgrimage experience that is God is Good.
It is well known that Om is a duo. The desert twins Al Cisneros and Emil Amos are in full force on this album. Yeah, Chris Hakius is gone, and while I think anything would be better with him involved, Emil fills out the drummer role quite nicely. He has a different style then Hakius, only adding to the variety of Om's discography. Speaking of variety, the duo is joined by Robert Aiki Aubrey Lowe, which is an Om first. He plays the tambura on tracks one and four, and really adds a new dimension to Om's typical bass and drums music. While Al's riffs are still distinctly middle-eastern sounding, and Emil's drumming is still the same repetitious and driving force, Robert's extra instrumentation really adds a middle-eastern feel to the music, especially “Thebes”. Also joining Al and Emil is Lorraine Rath, of Worm Ouroboros. She plays flute on “Meditation is the Practice of Death”, and again like Robert's contributions, really adds a different dimension to the music. The flute really helps to shape “Meditation is the Practice of Death”'s identity, and really sets it apart from the rest of the tracks.
Like I said before, there is a flow to the album. Not in the Pink Floyd every-track-is-connected-to-the-next kind of way, but in mood. There isn't a connecting soundbite, there isn't a progressive rock segue, but everything should be listened to in chronological order, to fully experience the journey that is God is Good. “Thebes” ends on a fade out, and so does “Meditation is the Practice of Death”, but that doesn't mean they aren't connected. I would have gladly bought God is Good if it only had those two tracks, because they seem like a complete journey. It's almost like the conclusion to “Meditation is the Practice of Death” is the end of a long and arduous journey, and the following track “Cremation Ghat I” is the ensuing festivities, which then segues into “Cremation Ghat II” which is the festivities dying down. It all seems quite deliberate, very calculated, yet still holding onto that organic flow that Om is known for.
In conclusion, this is my second favorite Om album, and comes in close behind Conference of the Birds as best Om album of all time. It never seems artificial, it never seems overdone, but always like a journey through the sands. Even the instrumental tracks conjure up an image of ornate palaces, people lying on rooftops cheering on the emissaries that have arrived from distant lands. They paint a picture of beautiful desert treasures and ashen ladies draped in colored cloth. It's a journey, a pilgrimage, and it's one I highly recommend.
With Chris Hakius leaving Om after "Pilgrimage" and Emil Amos replacing him, that was as good a time as any for Om to change musical direction slightly and forge ahead in a style more influenced by meditative, religious traditions from India, the Middle East and Tibet, musically and lyrically. The overall sound this time is much sharper and clearer with much less of the bass guitar distortion that characterised earlier Om recordings. Cisneros's chanting is as monotone as ever but it seems this time around there is a little more human warmth. Amos's drumming is a bit different from his predecessor's bare-bones minimalist style: he's more flamboyant where Hakius was no-nonsense and intent on building up intensity through repetition.
Opening track "Thebes" harks back to earlier Om with a hard-n-heavy booming bass guitar riffing approach from Cisneros and Amos sticking closely to the percussion template set by Hakius where he kept time on the cymbals and occasionally broke out in drum rolls. This is a hypnotic track that eases listeners into the album and immerses them into Om's worldview and ritual that will divest their minds of preconceived ideas about what Om will do next.
The rest of the album is a footnote to "Thebes" and consists of three short (for Om) pieces. "Meditation is the Practice of Death" is a major departure for Om, being almost dependent on Amos's drumming which has something of the feel of hand drums at times with its constant rolling on the tom-toms. Flute and another woodwind instrument, more reedy in sound, add an exotic Oriental mood to the track. The percussion rhythm is strongly syncopated and has a very seductive, sinuous flow. The remaining two tracks form a set "Cremation Ghat" which refers to a funeral ritual: the first of the two appears to be a celebratory looping piece of zorna (a reedy oboe-like instrument common across Asia from the Middle East to northern China), drumming, hand-clapping and chants, and the second part is a slow, almost mournful track of sitar, drums and rather heavy-sounding looped violin and cello.
While the album is not bad, it seems very uneven: the driving force of "Thebes" with its crushing bass-n-drums rhythms and Cisneros's beguiling holy-guru voice and indecipherable lyrics that borrow images and associations liberally from early Pauline Christianity, Arabian Islam, a bit of Zoroastrianism and Tibetan Buddhism, sets us up to expect greater and more intense doom metal glories with Orientalist trimmings. We get the trimmings all right and they are quite good if not very remarkable but the meaty stuff - the stuff we all came for - has all but disappeared. The second half of the album comes across as lightweight dippy-hippy New Age eclecticism with little regard for where the borrowings come from and how they should mesh. I'm not sure that if I were of the Islamic, Zoroastrian, Tibetan Buddhist or Syrian Orthodox faith in a strict way, I would look upon the combinations of bits and pieces of these denominations in the lyrics with much favour and perhaps some time in the future this kind of amateur syncretism might be used against Om in bizarre accusations of ethnic / religious appropriation.
The album might have been improved if Om had added an extra track right at the end in which they bring back the heavy droning bass guitar together with Amos's free-form drumming and throw in their other Oriental influences. The album would then conclude with a fusion of doom metal and mystical Eastern music traditions and listeners would be left with a good feeling of all-encompassing love from a God who accepts all beings and all things irrespective of where they come from.
Always the perfect band to throw across a conversation against someone accusing oneself of musical narrow-mindedness, Om have come to represent much in recent years since the release in 2005 of debut album "Variations On A Theme". Built around the other two members of stoner demigods Sleep (Matt Pike went off to form the excellent High On Fire...these guys know a thing or two about making great bands), the chances are if you're reading Rockfreaks.net that Om are like nothing you've ever heard before. The stoner/doom of Sleep is long gone: Om take a stripped down approach with their remaining bass and drums; this is spiritual drone with a strong religious monastic slant, baby.
Now on studio album number four, "God Is Good" signals the first change in Om's line-up thus breaking the old Sleep partnership that was at work: drummer Chris Hakius has left to be replaced by Emil Amos alongside the band's 'visionary' bassist/vocalist Al Cisneros. Though this does represent 50% of the band I can't admit to saying the sound is vastly different because of this factor. Instead, Om increase the experimental edge that has always been at their heart and tone up the influence of meditative, religious and Tibetan sounds in both feel and instrumental sound. "Meditation is the Practice of Death" is heavily dependent on the flute while the tambura of 19-minute "Thebes" and "Cremation Ghat II" becomes as significant as Cisneros' bass lines, at times pulling these songs into territories I never thought I'd be imagining in a review here - yes, into moments sounding what I imagine an Indian-style wedding to feel like. Lying I wasn't in declaring Om are a unique experience for you all.
Being as meditative and transcendental as Om indeed are, this of course works given the basic template the band use. The undistorted bass sound of Cisneros atop the drums of Hakius emit an undeniable garage rock feel not a million miles from another, more celebrated musical duo, the White Stripes, with whom I imagine the two bands' could share many fans given better exposure. Despite the relaxed appearance of Om's sounds, the droning experience and oft-lengthy songs (only "Thebes" exceeds even 7 minutes this time around), let alone the fact Om are prone to 'thinking outside the box' would be far too much to bear for the simple-minded pop-chart dweller. Oh well, their loss.
Quite obviously and most deservedly Om are in a total league of their own, and thus the band have earned the right to be a slave to mere standard grading. However, while "God Is Good" is, erm, good, repeated listens have not secured it the same fondness my heart possesses for 2007's "Pilgrimage" record. We do now have a crisper sound against the band's more lo-fi earlier recordings, but I personally prefer the slightly less experimental works happening on all three prior albums, and given that it is me who has bought all their records and it is me now writing this review, I shall reduce the mark accordingly. Fear not though, Om are there for the meditative, tranquil moments of your soul you perhaps never knew existed, a band that by being so sonically soft have become so thematically extreme, and undeniably unique. And so having virtually created their own landscape Om are wont to do what they damn well please, and even if I appreciate "God Is Good" a little less than previous recordings, I have no intention of getting in their way.
Originally written for www.Rockfreaks.net
The recruitment of the new drummer Emil Amos (formally of the band Grails) has brought around a new sound to the band Om. When I first heard the news that Chris Hakius had left the band and had quit drumming all together I was worried that Om was over. This however was not the case. Al found a new drummer to join Om and I must say he has fit in very well. Amos brings a different style of drumming to Om. As opposed to Hakius who’s drumming was very repetitive, Amos’s drumming is full of twists and turns. Just listen to the drum fills on “Meditation is the Practice of Death”. Not to mention the fact that his drum kit sounds just amazing!
God is Good is composed of four songs. The first song entitled “Thebes” is a crushing 19 minutes of pure hypnotic doom. It also incorporates something new for an Om album – the addition of other instruments aside from the bass and drums. Thebes starts out with a tambura that drones on and on and flows just right with the song. Al proceeds to come in with some very slow bass licks. These bass licks fill your mind and are perfect for meditating to. “Descends supine grace of the luminant” is the first verse that comes out of Al’s mouth. I swear Al Cisneros must have the one of the greatest voices I have ever heard. Then the drums arrive, when hearing these drums I am reminded of a far away land, perhaps somewhere in the Middle East. There is something very tribal about these drums. About 8 minutes into the song things change. A single distorted bass note changes the whole atmosphere, from a relaxing hypnotic jam to a stupendously loud world of riffs and amazing drumming.
The second song “Meditation is the Practice of Death” is another great song. Al’s bass pummels on and on. There are plenty of strong drum fills. Al’s vocals are everflowing and make you just want to bob your head up and down for the whole song. Near the end of the song there is another instrument added into the mixture of bass and drums – a flute. The flute really brings out the best of this track and I am glad that Om decided to add more instruments into this album.
The album ends with two Cremation Ghats. The first of the Cremation Ghat’s is fast and upbeat. Al’s bass provides a funky and fun head nodding flow. While the drums and claps can really get you into the song. The song is also accompanied by some nice chants of Al and another vocalist who brings in some very high-pitched vocals. Despite these vocals being so high-pitched, they fit right in with the song. The second Cremation Ghat is a slow droning song. The tambura is back and mixes very well with the song. While I was listening to this song I found myself wondering what a Cremation Ghat was exactly. So I did a little research. In South Asia “ghat” refers to a series of steps leading down to a body of water. Now, I suppose to become a cremation ghat a body is cremated by the water, allowing the ashes to be washed away. This is kind of what Cremation Ghat II does to you. It’s like it washes away your entire being. At the end of this album I feel much replenished. That may sound strange, but that’s just the feeling this album gives me.
It seems that everything about this album just flows together. It really must be one of the greatest releases of 2009. If you’re looking for music that slows you down and puts you in trance – start listening to this album. In fact, I would recommend that you start listening to this band all together.
I sort of wrote Om off after Pilgrimage underwhelmed me a few years ago- a one trick pony, you only need to own one album of their's, vocals suck a fair bit etc. This record hardly has me self flagellating out of remorse for writing them off, but it is one hell of a lot better then their last full length. Incidentally, they've added some new instruments in- a coincidence, perhaps?
Ok, so every riff is still in the same damn scale, but the addition/substitution of the new drummer and a generally richer instrumental mix has made things quite- well, not really "interesting" in a conventional sense- but certainly good to listen too.
Don't expect complete reinvention here, of course. Those who love the standard om formula will be well at home here; the new drummer is perhaps a bit more rock-ish but otherwise rarely deviates from the template laid down by Hakius in records past, the bass is alternating between groovy stoner bits and hushed, meditative jams, all in that patented style of melody that Al has made his own.
But yeah, there is a bit in the way of new ideas and it's about freakin' time. The tambora (or whatever it is) in the first song won't set your mind on fire but it works really well; despite Al's general mastery on his bass I doubt he could set the mood that well. It's a good indication of whether you're going to like the album really; if it's droney, hippie-ish sound turns you off then you might as well return the CD/delete it from your hard drive. Likewise, "Meditation is The Practise of Death" leaves the riffs behind and concentrates purely on the hypnosis- the sabbathian bass line, the vocals, and most importantly the bit of flute that deposits you firmly in 70's psych folk territory- never would I have thought a flute could actually improve a piece of music, but here I stand well corrected.
Indeed, the general psych folk and hippie vibes continue unabated throughout; perhaps that's what has me digging me this record so much more then the previous. Cremation Ghat pt 1 & 2 goes straight for the flower child vibe; handclaps and general good jammin' times in the first part, bongos, tamboura, a violin like instrument of some sort and those winding, twisting riffs that only Al can do.
Suffice to say, if the last two paragraphs make you itching to go out and buy some weed, you really need this album.