With the formation of SUMAC back in 2014 featuring Aaron Turner (Isis, Old Man Gloom), Nick Yacyshyn (Baptists) and BrianCook (Russian Circles, These Arms Are Snakes) and the release of their début album, The Deal, shortly afterwards, the metal community was taken back by the sheer exponential experimentation that was introduced on this project. And let’s just say that they left quite a raw post-metal-ish impression. Nevermind that the expectations were already set pretty high with such an all-star line-up, but what is more stunning is that they met them effortlessly with The Deal, showing the machinic beauty in minimalistic chaos.
Now one can only wonder what to expect from SUMAC’s sophomore release, What One Becomes, having newly signed to Thrill Jockey Records. How are they going to show progress after such a smashing début? Well, they sure as hell did something because the bar has officially been set higher for all bands in the cold metal game. This 5-track LP is a masterpiece of mechanical pandemonium and order, props to Kurt Ballou (Converge) for mixing. All tracks clock in a minimum of 10 minutes, with the longest one, ‘Blackout’, being a 17-minute journey. One of the aspects of this record that stand out the most from the previous is that on the balance scale of control and chaos… a tad more weight was placed on control although chaos still has more emphasis.
The first stand-out track, ‘Image of Control’, pushes out an interpretation of what it feels to be in constant battle with an anxiety-ridden mind. It begins its manifestation with confused out-of-key guitar distortion and cavernous vocals. But as the clouds of confusion begin to break, the lone guitar signifies the deep breathe of relief to finally gain order in the midst of it all. And so begins the heavy monologue of awkwardly orchestrated harmony between the zombie guitar/bass riffs and marching drums. To the untrained ear, it may sound like just noise. But with each additional listen, one will realize the strong musicianship and technical skills needed to create this amazing sound.
Another stand-out track is, without a doubt, ‘Clutch of Oblivion’. It starts off with a somber annunciated guitar riff which leads into a slow progressive groove that can easily give you an Isis flashback. But SUMAC is a lot dirtier sounding and experimental, which is one of the greatest differentiations from the band members’ past projects in general. Nevertheless, the track suddenly shifts from that familiarity to this wall of epic sound, bringing the listener back down to harsh cold earth. The technicality is most notable on this track because the time signatures throughout this entire track (and every track for that matter) are so strange and unpredictable that it leaves you intrigued.
With the magnitude of progressive and experimental metal available for your listening pleasure, you can often find yourself knowing what’s coming next whether it be a down tempo breakdown, extended distortion or ambience. But with SUMAC, you truly cannot see what’s coming. Every track on the album leaves an everlasting feeling and one can easily find themselves circling back through the entire album without hesitation. This solid body of work is truly a highlight of 2016 metal releases thus far and will surely be on plenty of end-of-the-year lists.
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