Big time artists do big-time things, at big times, to paraphrase my favorite sports analogy. 2018 is shaping up to be a crazier time in the world than ever, full of chaos, and special kind of hubris that fuels the mania. Art is typically a reflection of society, and for me personally, I have been clinging to art in a vain attempt to help save my own life in this tumultuous time. One of those artists giving me life has been underground supergroup SUMAC, with songs as big as the all caps in their name. Turning in yet another massive release with Love In Shadow (Thrill Jockey), the band peels back the curtain on this undercurrent running through all of us and shows us the glorious ugliness many choose not to see.
Comprised of legend status members of other great bands Aaron Turner (ISIS, Old Man Gloom, Mamiffer), Nick Yacyshyn (Baptists, Erosion), and Brian Cook (Russian Circles), the band eschews a lot of the grandstanding other collectives with name people do. Just unpretentious, great songs, full of savage heavy doom, clever avant-garde moments, and some serene passages that make the bolder ones even better.
Recording at Robert Lang Studios in Washington by Kurt Ballou (Converge, SLEEP, High On Fire) did justice to the tracks, the sonic palette of the album thick, but every part shining through in typical Ballou fashion. These songs are long, carefully written, with a lot of expositional character. The long form allows these tracks to envelop you. The heavy and raucous freight train that is ‘The Task’ is first. Turner’s angular guitar and course voice howling away. ‘Attis’ Blade’ is full of unexpected twists and turns. It’s also a high point for Cooks’ bass ministrations. ‘Arcing Silver’ is just so heavy, doomy, and deep, I wanna listen to this track in a darkened room alone for hours on end. Definitely my favorite here. Closing with the exquisite ‘Ecstasy of Unbecoming’ is more exploratory and Jazzy at the start before descending into a hypnotic abyss of madness riffing and crushing drums from Yacyshyn.
The only thing better than a new SUMAC album is seeing them live. One of the best bands in the world right now, not an exaggeration. Big time artists, indeed.