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Om - Pilgrimage

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Artist: Om

Album: Pilgrimage

Label: Southern Lord

Review date: Oct. 10, 2007

After two full-lengths and several singles of post-Sabbath sludge chant, I had begun to fear Om’s bag of tricks to be empty. While their dogged focus resulted in sleek, transcendent psych-metal, how much more fat could be trimmed? The duo utilizes only three elements: incantatory vocals of mystical obscurity, fluid-but-limited bass lines, and drums that alternate from tribal roll to backbeat-heavy. Only so many permutations of the three exist, and in less skilled hands, the well would have run dry long ago.

Add in the mind-melting achievement of “At Giza,” a track hypnotic enough to cause traffic accidents, and future Om efforts risk appearing as afterthoughts. Giza’s Conference of the Birds counterpart, “Flight of the Eagle,” certainly felt like one. It’s a fine track, but it just couldn’t compete, and as a result, Birds was more like an amazing single with a solid b-side, rather than an album proper. For their next effort, Om would need to either augment the sound (String sections? Guitar?) or retain "Giza"’s propulsion over the length of an LP. This is a lose-lose scenario: should they ditch their distinctive set-up and cease to be Om, or cover ground successfully trodden?

Pilgrimage proposes that to postulate, as above, is to miss the point. Om is rock music as singular pursuit – to reach the Godhead with the tools at your disposal, to hit on exactly the right combination that unlocks the elusive mystical. One can join or leave the quixotic journey as one wishes, but that decision lies squarely on the follower; Om will necessarily continue the search. To explain how Pilgrimage differs from its predecessors is only to explain differences in dynamics, tempo, sound, words. The song remains the same.

Steve Albini joins as engineer this time out, and his contribution is crucial. The sound here is reminiscent of his work on another lengthy spiritual journey, Mogwai’s My Father My King EP, but whereas that track exercised the Scots’ typical bombast, all that remains on Pilgrimage is the edge, the bass and drums popping more so than on prior Om releases. This is especially key on the opening title track, where Om forsake their trademark fuzz and overdrive for an almost-introspective sound, with Cisneros whisper-chanting 10 minutes over those rolling drums and fluid bass lines.

When the fuzz finally kicks in, one minute into “Unitive Knowledge of the Godhead,” it is successful precisely because of the opener's restraint. “Godhead” is top-notch, nothing new, and fades away after only five minutes. It sets the stage for “Bhima’s Theme,” more overdriven sludge, again nothing new. At exactly six minutes in, the fuzz dies and the drums cease, leaving wide open spaces for Cisneros' bass. All good stuff, but one minute later, the bass stops feverishly noodling, and something damn-near shocking happens – clear-as-day, comparatively unaccompanied, full-force chanting.

Up until now, Om have only used two modes of chant: quiet chanting over toms, and loud chanting over the fuzz. The best element of “Bhima” is only a trick, a permutation, another combination of the same handful of elements, but it’s stunning. Cisneros ends the section with a solitary cry of “LAZARUS,” soon after which the fuzz and crush roar back in, only to fade away shortly thereafter. A quick four-minute reprise of “Pilgrimage” follows, and the album ends.

It’s not for nothing that all these tracks fade out. The songs really could go on forever, and to ask anything else is to question the journey. Not only their first album, but every Om track is inevitably a variation on the same theme. What makes Pilgrimage their most successful effort to date is that this point is made through the album form, with the sequencing itself helping to unlock interlocked secrets. Here’s hoping that Om continue on this path, wherever it may lead us.

By Brad LaBonte

Other Reviews of Om

Variations on a Theme

Conference of the Birds

God is Good

Advaitic Songs

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View all articles by Brad LaBonte

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