Since setting the controls for the heart of an emerald green sun and then abandoning ship just before the moment of ultimate nirvana, the rhythmic anchors of departed doom combo Sleep, OM’s Al Cisneros (bass/vocals) and Chris Hakius have been carefully exploring innerspace and seeking new forms of spiritual transcendence through devotional repetition in their current duo formation. Pilgrimage is no exception, every bit as mysterious, hushed and cathedral-esque, even though the temptation surely to cover the walls of the church with blood with noise-abuser Steve Albini at the helm was surely high. Though that might be unfair to Albini, after all he “produced” some ace Low sessions (surely a member of the same order of bishops as OM) and OM surely has a very methodical catechism to work by.
There is aggression here, just not in the clumsy, groping, shouting manner – these be huge magnificent hymns to the mighty sine wave. Things start off seductive and subdued, with “Pilgrimage” a gorgeous ten-minute pastoral anchored by Hakius’ understated softer softest Velvet Underground-esque (think “Venus in Furs”) tattoos of percussion and a slinky, almost Indian-sounding bass riff, over which Cisneros whispers in our ear like an innocent and damned choirboy, crystal clear, the piece repeats in on itself over and over again, like a helix.
“Unitive Knowledge of the Godhead” brings ten mile high columns of pounding bass drone and knife-sharp cymbal crashes and snare avalanche – but here’s where the genius of fucking OM comes into play – the song is based around a slight variation of “Pilgrimage’s” central riff, just made more punishing and distorted by means of attack, with Cisneros’ voice more plaintive and urging, issuing holy writs that are to be taken as gospel. You’ve gotta love the economy in these musical motifs – the riff was so fucking great that we hadda use it twice (or maybe even three times).
“Bhimas Theme” deviates from the previous uniformities of theme and reverant soundpsalms for a bleak, soma-d lurch that has slightly more difficulty gelling into a thrilling whole like the previous tracks – but it’s still an able lesson in brute force mantra – until about six minutes in, when the track dissolves away like a ghost or holy vision, into thin air, with just the merest vapor trails of the bassline remaining, and desolate, lonely vocals, like a mystic in some far-off storm-tossed cave or a charismatic reeling off some long-forgotten psalm – check the intonation and diction, it matches, that’s the stuff – the inevitable return of the punishing force, hinging on the calling out of the name, Lazarus is “this” close to a letdown, were it not for some truly nimble and inventive drumming – choke on that, John Bonham.
Third time’s the charm as the album closes with a reprise of “Pilgrimage’s” flickering modal seduction – this time just at a more brief four minutes – Cisneros’ soft and unattached voice floats over this snakelike mantra, the drums rolling and throbbing like distant, but still insistent thunder.
Southern Lord: www.southernlord.com