It seems that the stars have aligned this summer as the titans of sonic devastation known as Sumac have returned. Their sophomore effort, entitled What One Becomes, saw its release on Thrill Jockey Records on June 10th. This latest chapter finds the trio of Aaron Turner, Nick Yacyshyn and Brian Cook further exploring their musical plans for leveling the planes of existence. And while these three have collectively been a part of top-tier bands within the extreme music scene – do I really need to list them? – it’s within the ritual chambers Sumac inhabits that they’ve been enabled to create something truly unheard of.
Their first offering, The Deal, was a phenomenal record. I raved about it on this very website. But it was also one that was chained down by Turner shaking off the memories of ISIS and striving to construct something new and unheard of. It reeked of promise and potential, but was also weighted down with the inevitable comparison to his former project. With What One Becomes, Turner has removed the shackles of the past. And no doubt partly in thanks to working alongside the creative drive of Cook and Yacyshyn, both of whom tow the rhythm section like a giant dragging a tree trunk across the ground. For those expecting a return of Sumac’s (and in part ISIS) original sound, I’d suggest you keep holding your breath. But for those who were just as intrigued and curious with where this three piece was headed, well, you’re about to be dazzled, destroyed and put back together as this behemoth release runs its course over you.
With the thunderous crash of drums, a cacophony of feedback, squeaks and a deep, fuzzed out bass tone, Sumac set the bar on the first track, “Image of Control,” for what is to follow on this lengthy, five song album. As this acid trip of sound goes on for what seems like a calculated three minutes, Sumac break form into a mournful guitar passage that leads into the first real explosion contained on this full length. Turner bellows his vocals with a new-found feral animosity for those that dwell under the sun. And thankfully, Cook’s and Yacyshyn’s technical savvy and ability to draw a deep undercurrent between the barrage of riffs and discordant notes led me to the initial reaction that this was indeed a reforged and rethought-out Sumac.
The key to this release is patience. Fast forwarding through a track in order to hit that one specific section will only serve to ruin the entire scope of what Sumac are doing on What One Becomes. Even as the first song comes to a close, Sumac wait around the corner, licking their lips in anticipation of dropping mountains onto the listener. “Rigid Man” moves at a lumbering pace. Each hit of the drum, bass string and down-tuned guitar riff only serves to push one further into the ground. And as the dizzying mid-section creeps into the eardrums, Sumac offer a brief, almost cathartic passage that allows us to pull ourselves together, all be it briefly. They slowly build up the song’s momentum until it reaches a crest and breaks down upon the rocks built forth from Yacyshyn’s uncanny ability behind the drum kit.
The seamless transition from the second song into the third, entitled “Clutch of Oblivion,” just goes to show how in tune Turner is within his created musical realm – it’s as if he sensed that there was a moment of respite and solemn contemplation needed. And while this passage might have more in common with his earlier works with ISIS (particularly Oceanic), the line is pretty much drawn there for any further comparisons to the past. It fits perfectly as the song abruptly moves into the more crushing, throat-clenching mid-portion, which, I might add, are some of the densest, heaviest parts he’s written as a guitar player. The dirge of mud-caked, manipulated guitar strings reverberating across the song almost become unbearable due to their weight, but like any true artist who’s in tune with his craft, Turner yet again settles the song down a bit before revving it up one last time. The result is a cacophony of smashing drums, Cook’s easily identifiable bass tone and a hair-pulling, head-smashing against the ground finale.
As Turner’s guitar hums and scratches in the background, Yacyshyn fills the void with a neolithic beat and we are greeted with the album’s longest track’ “Blackout.” A seventeen minute voyage, in what could be described as the album’s purest song. A song that encapsulates the gambit of emotion found on the earlier tracks. Rage. Anxiety. Fear. Depression. All that and so much more echo across this track. Throughout the album’s duration so far, it has been the laborious pace that has set this release apart from The Deal. The considerable time building up to those avalanche-sized sections – which swing back into the void just as quickly as they came – is the trademark sound of this album. “Blackout” serves to facilitate this journey and over-arching concept as the goodwill ambassador of destroyed speakers. What’s most surprising, though, is how fluidly Sumac transition from their standard, oppressive sound to a more progressive approach and groove.
(photo: Claudia X Valdes)
With the onslaught that was “Blackout” having laid waste to the earth and sky, my final question was, how is Sumac going to close this album out? In what could be a mutated approach from the band’s established identity and sound on this release, the last track, “Will To Reach,” serves as a fitting final chapter. Turner cracks open his guitar cabinet on the opening passage before they catapult into a massive, rolling few minutes. Cook’s bass lines seethe and rumble underneath the guitar work. And as the song progresses into a more mournful, somber passage, Sumac’s ability to keep one guessing reaches it’s utmost best. Perhaps it was my own fault for assuming that this song was just going to drag itself into the black abyss of sound and feedback – which in all honesty, I would have been fine with. But it’s at this crucial point where Yacyshyn really, really comes out of nowhere alongside the other two. Alongside Turner’s Black Metal-infused guitar riffs, Yacyshyn goes one step above his already prolific reputation and really pushes the tempo into some of the fastest territory a project like this can undertake.
As stated earlier, this sophomore album really sees Sumac as a unit come together. I absolutely loved their first release. It was massive in scope and sound. However, What One Becomes truly shines as their intended sound and delivery. It’s slower, darker and much more nuanced in terms of emotional delivery. The long, dragged-out portions serve as the perfect entree to gorge your inner Stoner Metal fiend, while the more up-tempo and traditional “Turner-sound” is there for those who revel in his ability to craft a universe via six strings, various pedals and guitar cabinets. And while this release takes some patience to get into – it’s not for everyone – the rewards are worth the effort. Sumac have grown considerably, which is saying something when one takes note of each member’s respective pedigree and other projects. It shouldn’t be surprising to anyone just how good this album is. What should be surprising though is just how quickly these three have come together over the course of two albums now and really found a sound that is unique when compared to everything else they’ve done. What One Becomes is truly marvelous album; one that will most assuredly anchor itself on a number of top ten album of the year lists six months from now.
Top Banner (photo: Faith Coloccia)