Friday, December 28, 2007

OM—Pilgrimage (Southern Lord)
OM are one of those high-concept bands that proliferate nowadays. The duo—Al Cisernos and Chris Hakius (ex-Sleep)—plays stripped-down low frequency vision-quest music, with bass and drums leaning heavily on each other during longform spiritual journeys towards a kind of ambient-metal Xanadu where pre-Dark Side Pink Floyd and Black Sabbath commingle in a space/doom void. All in all, it's quite a contrast to former bandmate Matt Pike’s maximum rock and roll approach in the equally righteous High On Fire. OM's compelling power-through-minimalism approach also stands in opposition to more assaultive duos like Ruins, Hella, or Lightning Bolt. Judging by this and their previous full-length, Conference of the Birds, OM releases straddle a format between album and EP. Pilgimage lasts about half an hour, so OM are either careful composers or ruthless editors...probably both. Each of the four tracks serves a purpose and resides comfortably in the running order. We’ll not hear any complaints about “value for money” because such materialistic concerns have no place in OM’s realm. This particular saucerful of secrets opens with the title track (also reprised in shortened form to close the album), a hushed affair, with delicately plucked bass and muffled tom work, sounding like Waters and Mason jamming circa 1969. Cicernos’s whispered vocals work a stream of consciousness vibe ("Witness from mind and psychic sheath a guardian sun restrains the world projection") as do the riffs, which have an idiosyncratic internal logic that encourages acceptance instead of analysis. “Pilgrimage” fades to make way for the distorted churn of “Unitive Knowledge of the Godhead.” This startling transition, bridged by a mellow passage that plays with a few notes from the previous track, is my favourite moment on the album. Having delivered a quiet one and a loud one, “Bhimas’ Theme” mixes the two dynamics, making for perhaps the most approachable, deliberately structured piece on Pilgrimage. While nothing on the album quite matches the superb and memorable “At Giza” from Conference of the Birds, the overall flow and variety of the tracks shows some significant progression, making OM’s third major release a satisfying listening experience. Pilgrimage is a testament to their staunch focus. If they keep widening their field of vision, OM should be able to keep at this for years to come.

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