With three celebrated heavy music stalwarts at its helm (Aaron Turner, Brian Cook and Nick Yacyshyn), Sumac delivered the perfect record for a post-Isis, post-Hydra Head world in 2015. Titled The Deal, this massive six-track powerhouse deserved all of the accolades it received upon its release. The record navigated familiar waters, but with a new vessel. These behemoth compositions presented an interesting take on post-metal and sludge that was rhythmically complex, experimental, semi-improvisational and most importantly, destructive. The Deal seemed to combine the best moments from its creators’ past work into a monolithic sound that will now be associated with Sumac and Sumac alone.
Now, a little over a year later, the band are poised to release their highly-anticipated sophomore album. With the bar already set high, Sumac present What One Becomes to the world. This gargantuan follow-up to an equally gargantuan predecessor, shows the band pushing the boundaries of their own sound and exploring new avenues. Those expecting The Deal Part II will not get it here.
What One Becomes features nearly 60-minutes of new music housed in five lengthy tracks, the shortest of which is a little less than 10 minutes long. Aaron Turner’s venomous guitar tone and muscular grooves, Brian Cook’s thunderous bass lines and Nick Yacyshyn’s commanding percussive presence make a glorious return on this album. All of these attributes are put proudly on display on the album’s tumultuous opening tracks, “Image of Control”and “Rigid Man”. These tracks unleash monstrous, groove-laden assaults that make moments on The Deal sound soft in comparison. The guitars jerk and shift mechanically and with total annihilation in their sights. The bass pulsates like the heart of some unfathomable biblical beast, and the drumming’s complex rhythmic shifts may be too disorienting for some. Cacophonous bursts of noise and scraping sound can also be heard on these terrorizing tunes, especially during the opening moments of “Image of Control”.
It’s during the middle of the record that the band start to push the envelope a bit more. “Clutch of Oblivion” begins with four minutes of hypnotic guitars and gossamer-thin ambiance, which bleed into a violent tug-o-war between spiraling sludge chaos and elephantine doom. The 17-minute “Blackout” is the album’s most ambitious track by far. The track features 11 hellacious minutes of caustic doom, unorthodox sludge rhythms and serpentine blitzes, all of which are separated by brief melodic or sparse ambient interludes. The track ends in a rather interesting way, with a melodic and strangely poppy section that is akin to the more melodious moments of Mastodon, or perhaps Baroness. The final track, “Will to Reach”, is another “standard” Sumac composition with its multitude of sludge mayhem and melancholic breaks.
What One Becomes is definitely not as immediate and The Deal. While The Deal wasted no time in dishing out post-metal, What One Becomes utilizes a slow-burning, tension-building approach on a lot of its tracks. While this approach is definitely welcomed and used quite well for the most part, the band’s overuse of interludes and ambiance disrupts the flow of some tracks and can make them drag on a bit. They are also used usually between heavier sections (see “Blackout”), which eliminates any element of surprise the songs may have had. That’s not to say these songs aren’t good, but the frequent heavy-quiet-heavy-quiet strategy becomes a little predictable after awhile.
While What One Becomes is a more ambitious record than its predecessor, its ideas are not applied in the best of places, causing it drag and appear unimaginative when it need not to. But when the record works, which is still a lot of the time, it works wonderfully. Sumac is still doing impressive things with this record and will most likely continue to do so.
Release Date: June 10, 2016
Label: Thrill Jockey
Favorite Tracks: “Rigid Man” and “Clutch of Oblivion”
For fans of: Isis, Neurosis, Old Man Gloom, Cult of Luna and Kowloon Walled City