OM - Conference of the Birds (Holy Mountain LP)

I know I'm late on this one, but in keeping with yesterday's stoner metal album review, I thought it'd be a good time to slip the new OM record in. OM is bassist Al Cisneros and drummer Chris Hakius, both formerly two-thirds of the legendary Sleep. The final piece to that puzzle, guitarist Matt Pike, went and sped things up with his new band High on Fire. Well Cisneros and Hakius took some time off, and when they did return decided to go more towards the opposite direction. If Lemmy Kilmister is the godfather for all that High on Fire comes from, then it must be Terry Riley for OM. As showcased on last year's debut "Variations on a Theme", the duo developped and even larger penchant for cyclical riffing, vocal intonation, and all around heady spiritual vibes. So basically an extension of the Sleep M.O., then. I wasn't blown away by "Variations" (maybe I was expecting "Jerusalem 2: Electric Boogaloo") but it was good nevertheless. My only complaints were that Al's vocals were just a bit too unrelenting and wore thin over the course of 45 minutes, and that he tuned his bass to sound so much like a guitar, that they might've well have gotten a guitarist to join the fold. Thankfully, both these minor grievances are corrected here.
At 16 minutes, "At Giza" occupies the first side. Immediately you can tell OM have shifted gears and hung up the idea of merely being "Sleep without the guitarist" - there's a heavier, psych ritual sound that was absent from "Variations", which surely comes from embracing "Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun" in lieu of "Sweet Leaf". Cisneros' vocals follow his bass smoothly, tumbling alongside the gnarly, unfurling low-end lines, and they don't annoy a single bit this time around. He's dropped the grungy snarl used on "Variations" in favor of an airier, shamanistic intonation. It's too easy to get lost in the soft, head-nodding trance-inducing smoke "At Giza" billows out, and the side is up before you can say "OM".
And side two belongs to the 17-minute "Flight of the Eagle", very similar to the preceding track except it calls for a bit more activity on the kit from Hakius. It's percussion-driven much in the same way that "Jerusalem" was, although nobody's beating the skins like they're trying to cave in the skull of an elephant here. Cisneros is just as wordy on this tune, but again his vocals are so onomatopoeic that they compliment the music just fine. The band is thoughtful enough to include a lyric sheet so you can get in on the chants yourself, but Cisneros is on a whole 'nother trip and I prefer to let the words roll off my body like sweet teardrops from the stars. I think I like the first side a bit better, but it's like trying to pick a favorite son, you know?
Part of the reason why it took me so long to get this was because I wasn't fully into "Variations", or as into it as I thought I'd be. I'm glad I made the jump through. Even though it's only been a year, "Conference of the Birds" is a way more mature and fully-formed work. I understand all's not quiet in the OM camp though and they've dropped two splits, a 7" with Ben Chasny's Six Organs of Admittance and a 10" with David Tibet's Current 93. Or maybe it's a 7" with C93 and a 10" with 6OoA...I dunno. Either way they're in the mail as we (?) speak (?) and once they land in my meathooks I'll tell you all about it and we can be dancin' in the burial grounds together.
I understand the vinyl version of "Conference" is temporarily sold out but is expected to be re-pressed if it hasn't been already...and it's easily obtainable on CD (also from Holy Mountain).


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