OM: Conference of the Birds

MATT PIKE GOT HIGH ON FIRE. SLEEP’S OTHER TWO WENT OM

When Sleep shed the literal Sabbath-isms of Holy Mountain and truly came into Being on Dopesmoker (nee Jerusalem), they revealed more than a so-deep-it’s-molten devotion to the transcendental power of repetition – they revealed a canny knack for bending time itself. On paper, not much happens in Sleep’s then-final one-track statement: minor variations on a riff, stacks of same-chord bludgeon, scattered solos, spread over an hour and a bit and all at a seemingly sloth-like tempo. Yet somehow, that hour never ever drags. I don’t know why. Sloth is a misnomer because that shit’s a real eye opener, pointing out some sort of Way whether you want it or not, warping your perception as it does so. Things ain’t as slow as you think you think.

On paper, not much happens in Sleep’s then-final one-track statement: minor variations on a riff, stacks of same-chord bludgeon, scattered solos, spread over an hour and a bit and all at a seemingly sloth-like tempo. Yet somehow, that hour never ever drags. I don’t know why. Sloth is a misnomer because that shit’s a real eye opener, pointing out some sort of Way whether you want it or not, warping your perception as it does so. Things ain’t as slow as you think you think.

Sleep’s rhythm keepers, bassist Al Cisneros and drummer Chris Hakius, create exactly the same time-distortion thing with Om. When the trio dissolved, Sleep’s evolutionary end point was Om’s beginning, a beginning which freed them to go for the cosmic jugular with long, meditative excursions laced with heavy reps. Dopesmoker is Om’s template, but with one massive difference:

No Guitars.

Yep, the band that made one of THE most definitive, uncompromising Heavy Rock statements of all time birthed a duo who don’t even put guitars on their records. Question is, does it matter? Nope. This band’s on a trajectory all of its own and that means it demands to be judged on different terms. There’s still a ton of weight in Om’s records, but the difference is more in the way we listen – the lack of axe, the arch metal instrument, compels us to drop any preconceptions about what Om/ex-Sleep should sound like… stoner/drone/doom-lite, none of it makes sense. Om aren’t metal and they’re barely even rock, certainly not on the surface, but with Hakius’s tumbling rhythms and Cisneros’s propulsive distorto bass thickness, they definitely flow. Om’s musical currency is m-Omentum, pure and simple.

OM album cover Conference of the Birds

Atop that glutinous drum ‘n bass brew, the cleaned-up vocals give Om their third definingelement. Now even more of a monotone than it was on Dopesmoker, Al’s voice just sort of hangs there, a soft human drone levelling out any musical peaks and dips underneath. Crucially, this emotional void – in delivery, not literal content – is precisely what makes Om Om. That detachment accentuates the music’s repetition, brings a mantra-like calm to the tracks and threads a Constant through every track, and whether it’s achieved through design, vocal limitation or both, his style works as an effect and breathes a mesmeric calm to the records.

With such an unwavering sense of self and purpose, it’s no surprise that Conference of the Birds offers no real variation on Variations on a Theme, the Om debut. It has two tracks, both around the 16–18-minute mark, but if there’s one argument for picking up a record that’s pretty much the debut continued, it’s in this: At Giza.

Lean, clean and taut, and maybe even a tad delicate for the hardheaded Sleep/Om devotee, side 1’s At Giza marks an evolution of the Om thumbprint.

Floydian in its Set the Controls galactic ambience, dramatic in its pace and tension, At Giza is quiet and spacious, maybe even nimble … unlike the ultra evenflow of other Om tracks, this track actually builds to something. After slowing to a stalker’s near-silence halfway through, soft drums – the warmest, closest drums you ever heard – signal a colossal surge and climax and sure enough, we get one of those Moments. Flip the record over and Flight of the Eagle is Sleep-heavy by comparison, a dense-from-the-off work of low-end bass action that trundles Om-ward with glue on its wheels, true to the debut: the hypnotic pull is complete. Put it on heavy rotation and let it sink … in. Deep.

Released 2006 on Holy Mountain
Tracklist:
At Giza (15:55)
Flight of the Eagle (17:27)

This review was first posted on Julian Cope’s Head Heritage site back in 2010, and I’ve revised it very slightly so it makes sense in a post-Om/reactivated-Sleep world. For a Cope-ian reading of Om’s debut album, gorge on his Album of the Month review of Variations on a Theme.

PALMS – Palms

Released on Ipecac, 2013

If you’ve missed the post-metallic majesty of Isis since they called it quits three years ago, get your hands on Palms – and prepare to fly.

Palms is what happens when Jeff Caxide, Aaron Harris and Bryant Clifford Meyer finally emerge from their post-Isis existential fug to decide that yes, they WILL make a record and it will be with each other

but it won’t be instrumental. They want a singer. Question is, after thirteen years with Aaron Turner on vocal command in the old band, who’s gonna fit their bill?

Step forward Deftones frontman Chino Moreno. After striking up a hiking friendship (yes, really) with drummer Aaron Harris, it’s clear he’s keen and wants in on this new post-Isis project.

ISIS + DEFTONES: big-name rock merger or what?

Sure is. But whereas some all-star join-ups sound assembled and bolted together instead of organically grown – Audioslave’s debut being a case in point – this one is seamless and effortless and fully formed from the off. A strong Isis current flows throughout but it’s not the raw, guttural Isis of Celestial, nor does it dominate. No, this record takes the clean vocals and spacious musicality of Wavering Radiant (Ghost Key, Hand of the Host) as a starting point and then bursts skyward. This is a record that takes you places.

Musically that’s no surprise, given the pedigree of the players and the nature of their previous band(s), but in the same way that Om took their own legacy – Dopesmoker’s dense mantra – into more airy terrain, Palms do a similar evolution job with the layers, surges and flows that defined their Ipecac forefathers. Future Warrior’s hypnotic intensity and Mission Sunset’s slow build to bruising/beautiful low-end payoff – one of THE peaks of this expansive set – are most Isis-like, but there’s other stuff going on too. Electronic hues usher in a cool, hushed ambience, none more so than on the gently euphoric dream-state closer Antarctic Handshake. You get a sense of elevation, movement and open spaces, if that means anything. Twilights and sunsets and pre-storm stillness. That’s Palms.

Crucial to this new ID for the ex-Isis three is, surely, Chino Moreno. Deftones revel in both sensitivity and rage, and Moreno’s vocals here traverse that same spectrum. Sometimes hushed, sometimes screamed but never hostile, his soulful yearn sounds caught in the throes of ascension – just not departed yet.

And somehow, that’s exactly where the album belongs. Music to be swept with, and lifted by.

‘Ascending into heaven

while staring into hell.

We’re staring into heaven

descending into hell.’

Lyrics from Shortwave Radio. Says it all.