Promotional snippets for Sumac’s latest full-length What One Becomes summarise the records’ tone and content more succinctly than should be possible. Describing the trio’s sophomore effort as ‘exercises in chaos and control’ tells you everything you need to know about the moments of spacious calm and crushing, rapid pressurisation that occur over the near-hour of new music from the creative hive-mind of Aaron Turner, Brian Cook and Nick Yacyshyn.
As with most of Turner’s post-Isis work, What One Becomes isn’t one to usher you in easily. Opener Image Of Control begins as anything but, a tumbling, jagged cascade of screeching guitars, droning feedback, tolling bass notes and Turner’s distant bellows. Though seemingly unrestrained, the aural assault is reigned in sharply, giving way to a single guitar line that seems fragile in the absence of other instrumentation, which is in turn swallowed up by the predatory chug of the main riff. Turner’s deep throated grunts keep us on course amongst the rising, tumultuous tones, with the rhythm section of Yacyshyn and Cook both throwing in decent fills and touches before the riff mutates again, into a driving, tar thick rager that grows ever denser, leaving nothing but creaking amps protesting in its wake.
Rigid Man is somewhat more immediately accessible, big stabs of incredibly bass heavy riff. Kurt Ballou, as always, offers up a production job that makes the absolute most of each instrument, allowing individual parts to grow and breathe individually whilst maintaining a cohesive unity. As the hammer blows of the main riff ease, it shows us our first glimpse of one of the bands’ most creatively used tools – negative space. Letting riffs stop, run, stop then fly apart before coming back together, they show remarkable singularity of purpose and vision. The shuddering, rhythmic blasts cease, becoming a single, shimmering, swelling guitar in the aural darkness, accompanied by tentatively tapped cymbals, before things once again amp up into a towering, racing riff.
For a lesser band, the mixing of dynamic and temporal shifts would become a mere device – not so Sumac. Clutch Of Oblivion starts with mourning guitars that expands out, pushed on by a jazzy, constantly moving bass and drum line that captures the solemn mood perfectly. Things unwind methodically before breaking like a wave, into the familiar bass-heavy, dense, sludgy riffing. Turner’s strident vocals imbue a sense of panic, and Yacyshyn’s pummelling fills whip us into a foam-mouthed frenzy. Things take a sharp left turn, into a head-spinning riff backed by Cook’s darkly energetic grooves. Again, things wind down, stripping layers away, leaving guitar and distant drums, then once more a crescendo builds, apocalyptic in its depth and fury.
Blackout is a sprawling mass, beginning with scraping amp buzz and massively booming toms. Doom-like in its stately, unhurried pace, the floor disappears underneath to reveal drums in the depths and a wandering, futilely hopeful guitar riff. We’re crushed once more under the sheer weight of riff, before a breathless injection of frantic pace whisks us away. Another left turn sees us driving down a dusty, southern influenced alt rock route, like the band created Ed Gein like-flesh suits from the corpses of Baroness, which fade out, buried under stabs of heavier chug.
Will To Reach carries our battered, wearied forms home, but not before a final run through the mill. A decent riff kicks off, scratching guitars joined by throaty bass and clashing cymbals, before uniting, into a massive line, punctuated by rapid snare rolls. An atonal, insectile crawl emerges, before mutating, splitting from its dried husk, becoming a darkly melodic, thoughtful, sobered meander. Just when you believe it’s safe, we’re once again trampled by a sludgy, galloping riff, with Yacyshyn’s furious fill work poised to burst the audio/physical barrier through sheer intensity. Exhausting itself, we’re left with a final spasm of Turner’s wounded guitar – atonal and enfeebled.
Once again, Sumac have produced a record that challenges itself, the bounds of genre, and the listener. It’s aggressive, yet subtle. Enjoyable, yet difficult. Complex, but not without moments of simplicity. It begs to be listened to, at times makes you regret doing so, but is then conspicuous once it is absent. Truly vital.
Scribed by: Jay Hampshire