without Internet Explorer,
in 1280 x 960 resolution
A SHORT OM ANECDOTE
or “Gino nails it.”
An interesting thing happened as I was driving a few of my friends from the pub to some guy’s house to pick up some drugs the other night. I don’t usually play music in the car much because I’ve found that it’s the most convenient and discreet place for me to practice my Tuvan throat-singing, but obviously as I had a car-full of half-drunk peeps, mostly hyped-up and in party-mode, I thought I’d better put some music on, and of course I decided to play Om.
Anyway, one of the guys, who I don’t know too well, as he’s more my mate’s mate, and therefore doesn’t know about my screaming intense obsession with all things Om, and in fact, he’d never heard them before (Yes, I know, I know!), after about 10 minutes or so of quietly nodding in approval, he turns to me and says “man, all this band’s songs sound the same, eh?”. “Aye” I said, and laughed.
What I didn’t tell him was that he’d only been listening to one song.
Which, if you really think about it, probably says more about Om and their music than any of my reviews ever will.
Om’s incredible first album may bare the legend “VARIATIONS ON A THEME” but it’s really this, Om’s final release with the original line-up that fits that description better than any other, For three of the four tracks on ‘PILGRIMAGE’ are indeed close variations of a singular theme, and the other track is kinda the same too, but not really y'know? It is Om after all…
I’d long since arrived at the conclusion that the “VARIATIONS…” title was indeed just that; a title by which to group three similar sounding tracks together, neatly nailing the contents of the album as well as the initial intentions of a group that were just starting to work up their thang. Indeed, I always considered Cisneros’ debut album-era interview where he said that the sound for the next album would be “continued variations” to be a massive red herring in the face of the soul-slapping ‘CONFERENCE’ material they released in the following months; a clever ploy mainly to maximize the shock of ‘AT GIZA’ in particular.
It’s only in extreme hindsight, and by immersing myself in this album, that I now feel I can say NAY! That “VARIATIONS ON A THEME” is not merely a convenient snappy album title for a developing band, it’s a towering, monolithic self-imposed commandment, hanging silently over every move, every subconscious improvised lick or drum roll, steering the direction of the musicians directly through the collective muse at all times. And hidden, albeit openly so… where else? As the title of their debut album… Goosefuck! Aside from making it the name of their band how more prominent could they make it?
Taking this into account, it’s hard to believe Cisneros and Hakius didn’t have everything planned out right from the start. You can listen through all the 2005 to 2007 works in order and it seems like a perfectly conceived chess manoeuvre; the closest variations actually appearing on completely separate releases. Indeed, ‘ON THE MOUNTAIN AT DAWN’, ‘FLIGHT OF THE EAGLE’ and ‘RAYS OF THE SUN / TO THE SHRINEBUILDER’ are so plainly cut from the same mung-cloth it’s not even funny, it’s as scary as ghost-checkmates.
But regardless, on this here release Om delivered their most their most simply stated “Variation”-style work, relative to itself, and independent of all external Variation-isms that are whirling around confusing any hints of structure in this review. Actually, this album is even the most OM of all their MK I releases, and not just for that reason. Mainly because it has all the classic Om elements, only more so; the heavy bits are heavier, the atmospheric bits are oh-so atmosphericer etc, etc, but also because of the clever way the album is presented in a cyclical nature, featuring as it does two versions of the same track (not insignificantly the TITLE track) at both the beginning and end of the record, hinting at a continual and slow-groovin’ perpetual loop with-in and with-out and with-shake-it-all-about.
Yep, the title track both opens and closes this album, the first version being a beautifully light and restrained 10 minute-plus journey through all the moods and imagery the duo can summon from a simple loosely defined melody. Under a skeletal clean-toned bassline in the ‘AT GIZA’ mode, but infinitely sadder, deeper and more haunted, Hakius in particular shows a breathtaking lightness of touch way, way beyond what you’d expect from someone responsible for the retarded hammering of ‘DOPESMOKER’, simply tapping away on a tambourine to anchor the beat, while the rest of the kit provides atmospheric rumbling and tabla-style percussive sounds. Particularly effective is the tuned drum, hit typically sparsely and strategically on the ‘and’ beat just before the ‘one’, and tuned to the major third of the root note (I think), which gives a gorgeous discordant, but clear-toned sound when combined with the minor-key surroundings. He uses the same drum pattern more or less in all the shifting tempos of this song and gives me huge joys in my brains every time it’s applied anew, and pretty much makes me want to marry him, really. It’s lovely.
Al’s vocals are in the breathy muted wailing style of ‘AT GIZA’, although much darker and hushed than there, and I don’t know what any of the words are other than “OHHHHH” and I don’t care, because “OHHHH” (or is that “OMMMMM”?) probably sums up exactly what the fuck he wants to say anyway, and damnit, I’M WITH YOU, AL!!! His bass playing is at it’s absolute ego-less best here, serving mainly as a backdrop for the superb percussion and relentless vocal mantras. There’s a light delay effect used on it, which combined with producer Steve Albini’s legendary drum sound creates a wonderfully rich atmosphere, which is a good thing, the atmosphere being pretty much the entire song on its own anyway, you bloody geniuses, you.
It’s tempting the first few times you listen to ‘PILGRIMAGE’ (the track) to anticipate the huge ‘AT GIZA’-style explosive heavy ending/release section, however try not to if you can. Because there isn’t one. It just fades out, and while this left me a bit disappointed to begin with, after a few listens I began to realise that it’s totally perfect the way it is. To try to repeat the holy achievement of ‘AT GIZA’ would be a shit anyway, but Om use the open-ended-ness of the fade-out to their ultimate advantage in the screamingly obvious way that declining to finish the track creates the illusion of the music continuing on after the track has faded out, as if it was gonna go on forever. Combine this with having the same fading song at the beginning and end of the album and you got it, things start to get pretty cyclical.
So let us pause for a moment;
“May the circle remain unbroken,
May the circle remain
May the circle remain unbroken
- The 13th Floor Elevators, ‘May the Circle Remain Unbroken’
I think it’s worth saying, if I haven’t made it obvious enough from my head-up-my-arse theoretical blitherings, that like all Om albums, ‘PILGRIMAGE’ works much, much better as a whole. And just to drive my point home to the point of redundancy, it works as a whole much MORE than any of their other releases work as a whole. Again, another reason why I think this is the most Om of Om albums.
Not to say that it’s their “best” album though. Really all the group’s original line-up releases from “VARIATIONS…” up to this could (and fucking maybe should) be seen as one slowly unfurling seamless whole, and as one giant highpoint of 100% achievement, rather than the usual peaks-and-troughs of a developing artist. Anyone looking for the “best” of Om would really have to wide-lens-focus their peepers on this whole slab of catalogue, there ain’t no album-sized chunk of definitive in this here discography, fellaz.
And what better way to subliminally underline all of this than by issuing ‘PILGRIMAGE’ as their departing statement; an ultimate distillation of selfless SELF, at the END of their (MK I) output? And though Om did indeed first establish their holy thang, and though they did proceed to branch out like the best of ‘em, they branched out mainly inwards, better than the best of ‘em, and more with ROOTS than with actual braches, leaving their early body of work less like some A to B to Z timeline of becoming, and more like a perfect crystalline symmetrical THANG, like a mighty oak with ghostly foliage, like a big transparent leafy brain on a trunk-stick. For Om are the rarest of the rare; a band whose roots are in plain view, but whose branches are mysteriously and fascinatingly obscured.
That just ain’t for some folks, though. Bob Dylan once described his weirdest of John Wesley Harding era songs as ones that “you have to think about… after you hear [them]”, as opposed to the long ballad form where (most of) the ins-and-outs are made clear, sooner or later anyway. This is true of Om’s finest works too, a case of having to think about the song as it’s moving on, throwing up more blanks and possibilities and growing to unfathomable proportions. And ultimately, “nothing is revealed”. Not of the Om anyway, maybe of the listener themselves, TO themselves, or maybe even TO Om themselves, but not as some I-rock confessional, that’s for shit-damn surely.
Because music like this is sometimes more about what the listener projects onto the blanks than it is about any hard-facts-info the song offers up, and let’s face it; it’s more enjoyable and psychically rewarding this way. Or if we’re being less lah-di-dah-di-spiritual about it, and more cynical, it’s a bit like those ready-made meals that originally bombed back in the 50’s, but were a huge success after the manufacturers changed one thing; they left the food dehydrated so that the customers had to add water themselves. Why? Because people like to FEEL like they’re putting something IN to what they’re doing to FEEL like they’re getting more OUT. Cynical and dumb it may seem, but it’s true, and whilst maybe not in the field of lunch hydration, but certainly in the field of music, feeling is EVERYTHANG. So let us not feel guilty or hoodwinked, let us rejoice!
Like I said though, that just ain’t for some folks, and fair enough. I’m not gonna lie and say I don’t dig instant-kicks in music sometimes, so I know what they feel. BUT then you get the people who say “Oh, look at those roots, they’re so THIS and THAT, I can’t be bothered to look at the branches or the whole, it’s so YADDA-YADDA and WHAT-NOT, it’s just not A and B and such pre-conceived things, BOOO and also HISS!” and while on the face of it, most of these things may be true, on the ass of these things, BALLS!
That’s right; balls on the ass of THOSE things, because they’re missing all kinda points.
Does anyone rubbish John Lee Hooker because 90% of his songs are also all in the same key and one chord? Fuck no, because it’s JEE-NEE-YUS! He IS the blues, him and his voice and his brains and balls and his one chord, more than the oft-cited 12-Bar format (which he occasionally fucked with, I concede) will ever be. Just as Al and his voice, his lyrics, his three notes (two of them are E) and one unchanging tonal centre IS stoner rock. And beyond! THERE I SAID IT! 12-Bar blues can kiss my ass anyway, because simple maths tells us it’s at least 12 times more complicated than it needs to be and it’s only good in the context of insane 2nd generation psychedelicized Bo Diddley-isms like the 13th Floor Elevators these days anyway.
Did I just compare John Lee Hooker to Om? You fuckin' betcha! And in a way it’s a damn shame that Rick Rubin never tried his hand at producing a J.L.H.-tackles-the-modern-American-songbook style record before Hooker’s death, like he did with Johnny Cash. Imagine John Lee groovin’ down on the single-chord sub-Zen genius of say, ‘ON THE MOUNTAIN AT DAWN’ or ‘BEDOUIN’S VIGIL’ with just his big Epiphone and his snappy size-eights. Goddamn! I can certainly see the parallels between Hooker’s ‘TUPELO’ and Om’s ‘ANNAPURNA’ for a start. Alright, not really.¹
But aside from the wildest whims of my imagination, what J.L.H. and Om have in common is that fantastic illusion that all the great bands of this kind pull off; the impression that said artist only has the ability and know-how to do this ONE thing, but are doing it one-hundred-per-cent-balls-to-the-proverbial-wall, to the limits of their capabilities. Listen to Hooker, it seems like he could play ‘Toxic’ by Britney Spears and it would still sound exactly like him. Listen to Om, it sounds like Al only discovered his A string yesterday, but nevertheless thought “Yes! This is it for me, this is all I need to express everything I feel, want to say, or could ever imagine!”
And this is a line that runs straight through all the works of the greatest bands of this particular brand of greatness, from the uniquely desolate drone of Jandek’s first 27 albums², through Suicide’s retarded-but-catchy-bastard electronic hiss monologues, through Thee Comet Allotment in their improvised-field-recording-drug-pop phase (their youtube videos are highly recommended), right up to The Wooden Shjips, who, in the wake of Om’s hand-forced development into something comparatively sensible, have emerged as the band I’m pinning all my hopes on to last as the greatest active group in the world. Last year I drove 250 miles in a day (this is a lot when you’ve spent your whole life living in a country the size of a walnut) to see them play a tiny bar on the outskirts of Manchester, and I was floored by the maniacal uniformity of sound and sameyness of their music.³ The fact that singer/guitarist Ripley Johnson (!) has a side project, Moon Duo, who are pretty much exactly the same thing, only less so, and are even MORE repetitive, uniform and samey, is testament to their solid, solid balls of mind-steel.
But the two men who felt the pull of this mighty thread stronger than anyone in the years preceding the Shjips’ emergence were undoubtedly Cisneros and Hakius. And if it sound as if Al just discovered his A string yesterday, well today he’s discovered a couple new strings in his bow-bone. Now I know I run the risk of boring the arse off everyone here, and alienating everyone who isn’t familiar with musicianly ins-and-outs, but it’s important to the nonsense I’m spouting that I point out a few new things on this album, but I will try to keep it short.
First, drop-D tuning, which effectively splits his instrument into two distinct formats, the two D-strings an octave apart allow both his trademark saturated heaviness when riffing on the low strings, and also the airier melodic patterns when playing the high strings, but crucially with the use of the higher-octave D-string as a drone note, anchoring the sound. The latter is the approach aforementioned title-track, in which he also sneakily incorporates the odd softly plucked low-D note to ring out in tandem with Hakius’ ominous tuned-drum.
The second string-in-a-bow-basket Al unveils here is the subtle use of a delay effect on his instrument, used in the ambient sections of this album, but most explicitly in the intro to the second track, the outrageously titled ‘UNITIVE KNOWLEDGE OF THE GODHEAD’. After the ghostly drift of ‘PILGRIMAGE’ finally fades away, a low, distorted and relatively heavily delayed bass part creeps in, where I think Al is kinda “tapping” the notes with his fretting hand against the neck, which gives a distorted, but still ambient sound, which is kinda interesting and I wonder how th- BOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOM!!!!!!!!!!!!! FUCKIN BOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOM META-SPLOSION TO MY SKULL SYSTEMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMM OH MY GOD FUCKIN BOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOMMMMMMMMM, a massive, massive, MASSIVE uber-heavy eruption of sheer Om wallops in, kinda three-quarters of the way through the quiet intro riff, just when you least suspect it, one bass track pummelling your right ear with the G-force of a one-tonne drop-D bomb, while the other bass track karate-kicks your sense of balance into the muck with screaming feedback and holds you down there while the horrible screaming face of feedback gets right in your own face feedscreambacking it’s awesome breath-sound all over you, and though all this Hakius’ hits are amplified by the sheer genius of Steve Albini’s recording techniques into some of the hugest drumming in recorded music history.
OH GOD! The riff itself is almost irrelevant to the nipple-popping soundsplosion happening here, but regardless it is, that’s right folks, another variation of one of the periods of groove laid out in the preceding track, played here in the traditional heavy Om-stylee; cripplingly heavy bass riffery and super-groove drumming with bizarre double snare hits, and although this is a separate song, in a way it almost IS the ‘AT GIZA’ style climax that I originally anticipated during ‘PILGRIMAGE’. It fits when you consider the comparative brevity of this track (5 mins or so) and it goes without saying again, that this is certainly how it seems when the album is experienced as a whole, but I just said it again anyway, so pump a gypsy.
The drop-D effect is also evident in the third track, ‘BHIMA’S THEME’. Though used here mainly as the means around which a loping, circular riff is laid out on the detuned string, but in the key of A, which allows Al to drone ‘n’ diddle this time with the open A as an anchor. This is a first for Om, because as far as I can tell, it’s the only time the main riffery has been based in a fingering position other than that of the root note being at the 12th fret, which although not causing a drastic change in sound, give a swooping unexpected sound in relation to the lower range of the riffs.
Anyway, the point of all this bobblen is that while these techniques seem to have spurred Cisneros onto writing material he probably never would’ve otherwise, it would take either dedicated Om-cats like myself and yo-self, or Columbo to ever realise he was doing anything different to what he was before, and as such is a shining example of the ultimate way in which a new technique can be applied in music to spur on creativity. Hail!
Straight off though this track batters the fuck in, no time for ambience or nifty arrangement; it’s the classic riff-drum-roll-and-hold-onto-your-huj intro, after which Al chips in with ridiculously monotone, low singing even by his standards. This vocal is so at odds with the white-light riffingz that at first, it’s almost comical sounding. As in all of Om’s music though, these concepts, be it comical or whatever, soon cease to be due to the fanatical monotony in which they are presented, and are ultimately converted into varying degrees and shades of pure awed sorrow. The track chunders on like a steam train on mogadon, Al offsetting the unusual main riff with a sickly bastardised twist on the ‘MOUNTAIN AT DAWN’ “chorus” as it were, along with one of his finest falling-over-it’s-own-sparseness-forever-onwards kinda riffs which he’s so good at; an even simpler bludgeoning variation of the main riff, which has to be heard in all it’s spazzed-Zen glory to be believed.
As if it were a weird inversion of all that’s preceded it on the album, the track judderingly splices into a calm, ambient solo bass section, similar to the title track. Al’s vocals however are anything but calm. “LAZARUS” he wails suddenly over the minimal backdrop. This is yet another “variation” of the ‘PILGRIMAGE’ theme, though as I said earlier, this time in A, which for most bands, wouldn’t matter a good-goddamn, but as Al is impressively dedicated to singing on and around the root note for all his melodies, this means that the singing is gonna have to be pushed either really high or really low in his range, so he has the option of choosing between two octaves for his vocals, either way higher, or way lower, than he’s used to. That Al chooses the way low key for the loud part and the way high key for the quiet part is absolutely insane in theory, hilarious initially, and of course total inspired right-on genius in the end.
Al’s voice in the loud section if low and ominous, giving a sense of disconnected dread, and high and wailing in the quiet section, perilously exposed and vulnerable sounding over the bass wash below. It’s also funny as fuck, and the version on their ‘LIVE AT JERUSALEM’ LP is even funnier, but that’s a story for another day girls and boys. I’m not gonna say anything more about this take either anyway, because I’ve already spoiled enough surprises for one review.
The album ends with a return to ‘PILGRIMAGE’, as a shorter reprise. Ever get totally smashed and lie in the sun with your eyes closed listening to music for hours, with the sunlight making mad patters through your eyelids as your peepers roll around inside your skull? Once upon a time I got mangled on painkillers and listened to Godspeed You! Black Emperor’s ‘YANQUI UXO’ album on repeat for almost a whole day, drifting in and out of mintit consciousness, and the combination of the shamefull-smacky-high and the many repetitions of the huge slowly unfolding fuck-fugues disorientated me to an unprecedented level, of which the reprise on this album is a decent signpost for. Like dejavu or a daydream, Om offer up this wormhole back to the beginning, to start all over again, or should the listener prefer, a soft come-up out of the rabbit hole back to reality.
There are many great pieces of music that can almost induce a contact high in the stone-cold-sober listener, stuff like Ravel’s ‘BOLERO’, My Bloody Valentine’s ‘TO HERE KNOWS WHEN’, Thee Comet Allotment’s ‘SUNSPLASH’, Ash Ra Tempel’s debut album are famous examples, but Om are the only band that I’ve ever come across that can bring on natural highs of the kind you don’t even think you want to have, but deep down in your smacky soul subconscious, you want more than life itself.
So give it to me Cisnakius! More and more!
¹ Though completely irrelevant to this review, I’m gonna confess to laughing for ages about the flipside of this pie-in-the-sky chin-stroking nonsense; namely that of Om covering a JLH one-chord classic like Bad Like Jesse James for instance, where instead of John Lee’s expressive moan, we have Al doing his hilariously deadpan monotone telegraph-like vocal. “I’M. MAD. I’M. BAD. LIKE. JESSE. JAMES. I’M. SO. MAD.” *much riffing* “AND.CRYING.WON’T. HELP. YOU. NOTHING. HOLD. YOU. DOWN. IN. THE. WATER. HEAR. THE. BUBBLES. COMING. UP. GLUG. GLUG. GLUG. GLUG.” Etc etc…
² I’m not joking either, check out his 1978 release 'Ready For The House' and then his 1999 album 'The Beginning' and tell me the absolute refusal to evolve isn’t a mighty triumph of willpower.
³ Impressed, I went to see them again in Glasgow on their next tour, but this time I was actually blown away by the sheer breadth of the songs lurking in their sonic soup, it had just taken that first incredible experience to prime my ears to their 100% uncompromising thang.
If you want to listen to "meditation" metal then Pilgrimage is an album you ought to give a try. Om does something quite different than what you might be used to in hearing doom. But is this really doom or stoner metal like what you are used to? Does this really sound that metal? If it is metal sounding it can also be described as very "meta" too. The guys on this album are Al Cisneros and Chris Hakius of the Cali doom outfit Sleep. They bring instant credibility of stonerage to this 2007 Southern Lord release. This is easy listening that isn't necessarily easy to listen to.
The album is fascinated by spiritual aesthetic and arcane immersion in stream of concioussness. The acoustic tracks sound like acoustic drone. The strings on the these songs are played methodical and tight. The spacey and ethereal early sound of Pink Floyd is a definite influence on here especially of the Syd Barrett period.
There's only four songs on Pilgrimage and while the album isn't very long, the title suite are the slow, soft acoustic songs that I mentioned and they make it sound somewhat longer than it is. What a trip,eh? Unitive Knowledge of the Godhead and Bhima's Theme are pretty much the doomish tracks as they sound like a less heavier style of Electric Wizard. The electric guitars are down tuned to the fuzzy wuzzy distortion and trippiness that Orange amps are known and made for. The drums are washy and follow just a beat for timed rhythm roll on those. For the suite, a tambourine or some other hand percussion is used but heard softly in the background behind the guitar with some small floor tom beats hitting in.
The artfulness of this record is genuine and the band member's yen for an Eastern transcendentalism in their doom sound is striking making it hard to discern which listeners of metal might enjoy this the most. But Pilgrimage still comes off as slightly silly and pretentious though admirably so. I mentioned in my thesis paragraph about the metalness of Om but now that I think about it, there is one aspect about this album that is quite metal and that is in the amusing verbosity of the lyrics. Pulling out the lyrics sheet, I learned a few new words like 'Nirvikalpian', 'Brahmicspine' and 'yogic' with lines like 'Consecretes the sushumnic vertabrae'. I think words like that back in the day were unwittingly invented for metal bands in the future. Fans of Sleep who want contemplative doom metal should pick up this album. Note: "Brahmicspinal" blotter paper not included.
To me, Om have sounded similar throughout their career. Despite being a relatively new band to the doom/stoner hybrid scene, having established themselves under Southern Lord since 2003, Om have built a tremendous fan base and repertoire of records based around this similar sound from day one, though the production has suitably altered to fulfill the needs of the average fan who is definitely a fan of clear soundscapes. It probably comes as no surprise, since Om have released all three of their records within a close time period, the first coming out in 2005 and the latest in 2007. ‘Conference Of The Birds’, which was actually my first taste of this band, is the only source of material I’ve covered by this American band and considering its similar approach to the slowly developed crossover genre, this makes ‘Pilgrimage’ difficult to review. Its minimalist style isn’t particularly pleasing in this sense, since there isn’t much content for me to pick out and review. Reviewing Om is like reviewing the well established drone act, Nadja. It isn’t as much about the instrumentation, or levels of experimentation but, instead, its more about the conjuration of emotions and imagery that allow the record to become memorable in any sense. A lot of bands can be reviewed as they are - bands that play a certain musical style, but not Om. This isn’t music, this is a lifestyle. A religious and spiritual journey that will test your soul of its purity. Whether the bands members themselves are religious is not known, though the lyrics seem to suggest they are, since the concepts follow spiritual patterns. I don’t consider Om a life changing experience, like getting heavily involved in religion would be, but they’re certainly different enough to cause a lot of thought provoking sounds within their capable, yet limited approach.
The base of this record, like all the other Om records, is merely formed on astral vibrations that conjure up some of the most fascinating imagery you’re ever likely to hear from any doom/stoner hybrid. To me, there is more stoner than doom involved, but it doesn’t detract from the essential divinity of the records special feel. ‘Pilgrimage’ is defined as; “a journey, especially a long one, made to some sacred place as an act of religious devotion” or “any long journey, especially one undertaken as a quest or for a votive purpose, as to pay homage.” There are a lot of key words used in the lyrics that describe the sound of Om particularly well. Words like “celestial”, which is defined as “pertaining to the spiritual or invisible heaven; heavenly; divine: celestial bliss.” Words like this aptly portray the astral sense of soundscapes that slowly become the true nature of Om. The slow turning songs, which highlight the performances of the bass, guitars and poignant vocals, are essentially minimalistic and seethe beneath the surface, where the battle is raging. There is an odd sense of spirituality throughout the record, which is particularly displayed in the vocals, which are clean and portrayed in a chanting method - slow and repetitive in sound. Though they’re not actually chants, they manage to feel like it with their surreal touch. The vocals slowly scatter themselves and the emotions that are visibly displayed in them over the instrumentation and soundscapes like a thick coating of dust. The dust is only ever swept away by the splendiferous soundscapes, which subtly divulge from the normal sound into an intoxicating drug trip of epic proportions. The psychedelic proceedings, although soothing, are inevitably dull after long and sustained periods of time. I appreciation the depth in emotion, yes, but this is a experience saved only for times when you’re feeling a certain nostalgic, or reflective way.
I’d imagine this sort of music would be effective as a method of relieving writers block, or inspiring creativity, as long as you’re not writing about it directly. The soundscapes swirl and twirl along a similar path throughout and, like most other Om records, they’re diverse without being instrumentally brilliant or outstanding in any sense. Om work within their own limitations and they do it well, forcing their sound through the thick layers of bass and vibrations. The tribal undertones to this record remind me of Tool, particularly on ‘Lateralus’, which consists of a similar percussion driven tribal feel. There is a truly hypnotic feel to the music, which is mostly drawn out by the influential percussion section, much like Tool do. Having said that, Tool certainly have more to their game than Om, though I imagine this is exactly how Om want their music to sound. It suits their personalities, but is definitely an acquired taste. Though I don’t consider the percussion to be essential to the sound of Om, like all other aspects of the instrumentation, it is included simply for its mesmerising and imagery inducing touch. Not all of the instrumentation is presented so kindly. There is a heavy feel to the incredible distortion of the guitars. There is some experimentation undertaken in the songs, take ‘Bhima’s Theme’ as an example of that. It begins typically hardened, then eventually flows out like the tributaries of the rivers bend due to the high increase of slow instrumentation. The percussion is omitted, leaving its harsh texture behind and the bass takes its foot of the gas. In doing so, Om show that they are capable of achieving different tones and textures with their play, but that they’d rather save those as if they were the ultimate highs of a drug experience. As soon as the song slows down, it begins to build and build towards the obvious crescendo. However, there is a disappointing factor ahead as Om always seem to manage to end without a bang. There is an anti-climatic feel to their records that just doesn’t sit well with me. Good, but not great.
When your only instruments are bass guitar, drums and voice, you realise you need to make your point succinctly and keep you music moving continuously with a strong theme until you've said all you need to say in the way you want to say it and which best suits the music's subject matter, and then you're finished. This may partly explain why like previous Om recordings this new album "Pilgrimage" is a short recording, in this case at 32 minutes. With the minimalist, stripped-down approach, all emphasis falls on the rhythm and the sound and textures of the music, and these have to be maintained to keep the momentum flowing, so Al Cisneros and Chris Hakius the men of Om must make the most of this deliberately self-imposed limited palette to create a style of stoner rock / doom metal that on "Pilgrimage" turns out to be more varied than it has any right to be and in the process transcends its limitations and opens up new areas both musical and lyrical for Om to follow.
The title track is a very gentle and melodic flowing piece with soft, near-tribal drumming and a dream-like vocal delivery. The rhythm can be a little tricky to follow, I expected it to go a certain way, very flowing, but there are little hops in it that add suspense and something uncertain and not necessarily benevolent to the journey the pilgrim makes. This is as much a spiritual voyage for the unnamed pilgrim as it is a physical one so there is the possibility that the pilgrim must experience a kind of death though not necessarily a physical death.
"Unitive Knowledge of the Godhead" is a highly rhythmic ritualistic stoner metal track with strong riffs and Cisneros's monotone hypnotic chanting. "Bhima's Theme" is an almost droning doom metal song where Cisneros sings as low as he can without turning into Tibetan monk drone-chanting. (Now there's a possibility for a future Om album.) This is the heaviest and doomiest track on the album and yet the solemn music moves in such a way as to seem the freest and most transcendent piece here. Repetition of the lyrics lends a ceremonial aspect as though Cisneros was chanting a spell to raise the dead and indeed the energy of this track collapses towards and into the word "Lazarus" from which the energy immediately expands, Big Bang-style, in a fury of thundering drums and down-tuned bass drones.
The entire ritual of the album is completed in circular fashion with the reprise of the title piece: the purpose of the pilgrim is complete but in a way that the person / entity is transformed forever and may be unable to return to a former state however desired.
"Pilgrimage" seems a darker, more complex and ambiguous, and less optimistic and hopeful recording than the previous "Conference of the Birds" which was a fairly straightforward slab of music in structure (basically a long single with a long B-side) and theme. The lyrics here don't seem to lead to a very obvious conclusion and we've passed through some stunning vistas and states of being but don't take my word for it, my interpretation could be way off. Cisneros may be a limited singer but he does try to extend his range and style of chanting / singing as much as he can and still achieves a trance-inducing effect. The music is clear, precise and sharp in tone: this may well be due to Steve Albini's involvement as engineer and co-producer (yes, we are talking about THE Steve Albini, producer of albums for UK noisesters Whitehouse and stacks upon stacks of other notable artists), plus it varies in style across three tracks. I guess overall this is an album you have to listen to a few times to appreciate its treasures: it may not be uplifting compared to some of Om's earlier works but on the other hand I sense it's gone to more places than I would have thought possible after the "Conference of the Birds" album and I can now see there's more beyond the horizon that Om can fly to on future recordings.
And on the subject of future recordings ... if I had to play the game of who Om might drag in as a guest musician to help expand their minimal bass / drums set-up, I'd finger Ben Chasny of Six Organs of Admittance: he's done very psychedelic folk rock droning trance music and has a distinctive fragile and warm singing voice that can go into the falsetto range which would complement Cisneros's own singing well.
"Pilgrimage", the newest album from doomy duo Om, is truly an example of how sometimes, less really is more. Armed with only bass, drums, and vocal chords, the group never the less manage to craft music of incredible depth and originality.
This album truly is as it's title suggests, an epic voyage to unknown lands of massive sub-sonic proportions. Al Cisneros leads the way on this journey, effortlessly weaving hypnotic bass lines that go from beautiful and meditative one minute, to Earth shaking heaviness the next, all the while his eerie, chanting vocals conjuring tales of spiritual planes that many have yet to expierience. His partner, Chris Hakius is no less important, keeping the music running perfectly smooth with a good balance of shamanistic, and marching, cadence like rhythms.
It's amazing that the sum of so few parts could add up to something so monumental in scope. This album truly defines what the DRONE is all about, music so trance inducing that at times you are not sure if you are listening to it, or are really expieriencing a deep, meditative state. The only real problem with this album is it's short running time, as it's 32 minutes literally melt away.
However, this album definetly isn't for everyone. People looking for brutality of any kind, or even metal for that matter, probably won't find it here, and will dismiss the album as boring (I can also imagine many dismissing the band for thier complete lack of guitarists). Don't get me wrong, there are plenty of heavy riffs, but they are not heavy in a traditionally metallic way, they are heavy in a deeper sense of the word, especially when weighed against the albums lighter, more mystic moments. However, more open minded listeners will find the album to be a genuinely awe inspiring musical expierience. "Pilgrimage" is a testament to the fact that Om truly are the masters of "drone mantra purity."