At time of writing, it’s high festival season in Edinburgh and I’m increasingly convinced I’m the only person who can see exactly how manically brain-beating this festival atmosphere is. I’ve just seen three fat Americans talking loudly as they walked into a McDonald’s in their sports clothing that looks a size too small. Time to tactically cede the Grassmarket and the Cowgate for the next week, retreat, regroup and start anew with a sonic assault courtesy of Om. Or Sleep Mark 2. Originally I planned a retrospective of all of Om’s full lengths, but after I sat down to listen to them all again, the fish hook of Conference of the Birds got me again. I’m now addicted. The deep sludgy mid-point between Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun and Dopesmoker has me. See you sometime next week.
After their first album, stoner metal groundbreakers Sleep shed a guitarist and then there were three. After Jerusalem, Sleep split. Matt Pike became the frontman to heavy metal heavy weights High on Fire and Chris Hakius and Al Cisneros split off to form Om. And this was the beginning. Two is a better number than three when you’re dealing with mind meld melting mungo fuzz so thick you can spread it on a cracker. Two people find it easier to commune with the divine and shed collective ego and self to make a truly transformative experience. For three it’s harder, four more so and five and up I’m convinced can never achieve this state. Om take a lead from middle eastern philosophy and take Sleep’s monolithic megacolossus Dopesmoker further. In a lot of ways, it can be seen as a ‘devolution’ of Sleep, into Om, similarly as losing an additional guitarist helped Sleep’s sound become more expansive, so the further discarding of Matt Pike leads to a plateau of the sounds in metal that usually are crushed under distortion and wailing. The lyrics, to quote Julian Cope, are ‘the kind of accessible pseudo-religious genius that started genuine religions’, the seeds of the lyrical coming of age of Al Cisneros can be found in Sleep’s Dopesmoker (which better be next week’s entry into what is rapidly developing into a Nuevo psychadelia handbook replete with screeds of meaningless tripe). Om is a religion, with a handful of devoted converts. A religion not based around hate and fear, but around worshipping at the spiritual alter of this sound and lyric colossus. In all of Om’s recordings I feel my hand drawn as if by the snake charmers elusive coy musings closer and closer to the volume dial. Turning it ever upwards lured by the hypnotic rolling waves of bass and low end sludge seeping out of my stereo. Out of my speakers and on to the floor and all over everything.
It happened within seconds. Lulled in by the groovy bassline that opens At Giza, the comforting Tibetan chant marks this out as a meditative trip. Careful steps in sound lead you ever closer to the roaring river of distortion at the bottom of your ghat. A churning, surging urgent blast of distortion that scrapes away at the skin like sand. On the other bank stands a preacher. Al Cisneros. He is chanting with eyes closed above the sound of the distorted electric trip.
This album offers two musicians, two songs, and two trips. The noticeably more chilled At Giza sets the groundwork. It is meditative and contains some of Om’s more complex and thoughtful lyrics. To follow them is still certifiable lunacy, but the pattern in the chant is far more complex than on later albums. It’s a thick, dirty jamming session with groovy bass being seen to the door of the party by stretchy, organic drumwork that really brings out the life behind the music. This is for reaching another celestial plane, there can’t be no fucking around. There is pleasant building, a casual mounting of hysteria upon hysteria before the preacher as heresy is heaped upon redemption is heaped upon wrath; parables roll past, you can barely see. You know you’re strapped to something and are just waiting for the sacrificial blade. But it never comes. You’re here for your benefit. We’re converting you. The bass bathes you gently in honey, slipping into your pores and relaxing you better than any hit of opium. The air is thick with incense, the drums provide a rhythmic swaying backing to proceedings, like grass blowing in perfect harmony with the wind. Al Cisneros is the cloak-apparelled preacher, hosting communion and revelation, candlelight glancing from his face as he faultlessly issues forth sermon without pause or text. An unrelenting stream of viciously piercingly true verbiage you don’t even question. You just accept it, drink it in. The ambiance is too much to do otherwise.
Next comes Flight of the Eagle. The candles are snuffed out. The only light comes from a shattered window letting in a few sharp rays of moonlight. Al Cisneros sounds darker, hungrier, more purposeful. His face lit only by the blue moon looks cruel, the light catches few of his features but burns bright and unnatural in his wide eyes. His hands move in new shapes, everything seems more energised. Suddenly it is about more than ordaining into an order, it is about psychic transportation. Mentions of Lebanon start to fill the air with a grit like sand, the music makes the room spin. So much noise! So much noise you can hardly think! The honey all over your skin has come electric, shocks reverberating through it. You can do nothing but surrender. Flight of the Eagle as a whole is more purposeful, the sound more thumping, the distortion more immediate and thick. It burns with an urgency that sets it apart from the swaying, lumbering At Giza.
The record is an transcendental masterpiece of epic proportions. What’s unjustly fascinating for a mind-melded Om fanatic like myself is to listen to this album, after Variations on a Theme and before Pilgrimage, and hear on At Giza, the sound the band later laid themselves upon the alter to cast off after track one and the heavier, denser sound that umbilically linked Variations on a Theme with Sleep’s Dopesmoker and thinking that the softness and ease with which At Giza is carried out was just a passing phase and not the metamorphosis of the band into something even greater than it already was. Two more Om pieces are planned, of both Pilgrimage and God is Good, or maybe I’ll just put them together like two dogs I intend to mate. We shall a-fucking see. Until next time worshippers, worship Om, and Malaho.
Written under duress by Steven