What One Becomes
10th June 2016 – Thrill Jockey
01. Image of Control
02. Rigid Man
03. Clutch of Oblivion
05. Will to Reach
Aaron Turner is surely one of the most hardworking artsy types in all of metal. Having already been behind a Mamiffer release this year, his decidedly heavier project Sumac is on the cusp of releasing their second album in as many years, and is billed to tour with both bands at once this summer. With his peers in Neurosis enjoying their 30th anniversary this year, post-metal – once on the absolute cutting edge – is now a little better-worn, better defined. It’s a scene which is especially rewarding of diligence and longevity but it also champions innovation and edgy experimentalism; qualities that Sumac are very much about.
I often find myself, whilst bored, googling “Isis reunion.” I do this fairly often, because I am very invested in an Isis reunion. If you are of a similar disposition then this album will be a minor light in the very, very deep void that is our chances of an Isis reunion. Aside from Turner’s formidable (and now warmly familiar) growl, the work touches on a lot of the noise/melody tropes that made Isis so distinctive; the songs are less obviously structured, but there are some very obvious elements that flare up. The atonality at the intro to opener “Image Of Control” is immediately reminiscent of Celestial-era Isis. The swirling melody that builds around the mid-point of “Rigid Man” cements the comparison early on. This isn’t much of a throwback album, but it’s great to hear an intelligent, nuanced record like this from people who’ve spent most of their professional career making this music.
Turner’s presence is always a pleasure, but it’s the relationship between him and the rhythm section that give the release its fluency and spark. The formidable Brian Cook and Nick Yacyshyn strike the balance between a rush of ideas and satisfying sections. Though ideas do come thick and fast, they’re never enough to ruin the flow of songs; there’s a cool bass drum break in “Image Of Control“, an idiosyncratic flourish which gives the listener a breather in an otherwise busy track. The same can be said for the lush, desert-y intro to “Clutch Of Oblivion“. Moreover, in an album which is often challenging or perplexing, having a rhythm section play with so much life and fury helps to ground the album a little.
Supergroups are so often an indulgence and it’s refreshing to hear a well-conceived take on a well-trodden genre played with taste. What One Becomes doesn’t push any particular boundaries, but even as a single-genre project Sumac have a great deal of scope to experiment. After all, the conventions of their chosen framework were conceived to be thematically and sonically vast. The album can feel a little overwhelming but repeated listens do uncover some straight-up bangers, notably the ferocious closer “Will To Reach” and single release “Rigid Man“. The album lacks some of the more delicate moments that draw so many new fans to post-metal, but when substituted for outrageous fury What One Becomes bites with sharper teeth than one would expect.
When long-running musicians start projects in genres they had a hand in forming, the paths can seem a little too well-trod. Not here; though familiar in feel, What One Becomes is full of sparks and flair and charms that contribute to a healthy, energetic release. A little too idiosyncratic for newcomers perhaps, but a top-shelf entry for a superb band.