Old Man Gloom – Seminar III: Zozobra

Old Man Gloom, also known in full as the O.M.G. Institute for the Advancement of Alien Simian Technology and Human De-Evolution Studies (or O.M.G. for short), are a band, but a very thematically-specific band. As you can probably tell from their full title, the O.M.G. Institute is aesthetically very heavy on simians, ie. apes and monkeys. The music itself could be divorced from this, but their sound is part complex part primitive, suggesting the aforementioned hybridisation of man and simian. Also, they just flat out kick ass.

Featuring members of illustrious bands such as Isis, Doomriders, Cave-In and others, Old Man Gloom are what some would label a supergroup. In actuality though, they are a rather different beast than those pedigrees might suggest. They inhabit a strange world where the heavy metal of Black Sabbath collides with modern post-hardcore. Except that post-hardcore generally turns me right off. It’s part sludge, part doom, part hardcore, part noise, part ambient… Well it’s really just a big awesome sounding mess of a band.

This particular record is Seminar III, their third (who’d have thought) album, containing just one track. While that might sound like pretty crappy value for money, it just so happens this one track is one of the finest pieces of modern heavy music in existence. Zozobra is an epic just shy of thirty minutes in length, that more than satisfies its ambitious parameters. Opening on a slow barely audible drone, a quiet guitar drops in and repeats a simple riff repeatedly. This is eventually joined by oddly appropriate voice samples that apparently hail from a crap live-action Disney movie from the 70s called The Black Hole.

Structurally the track is made up of several simple sections, each consisting of simple repeating riffs. It follows the usual post-rock dynamic of soft->loud->soft->loud, but throws in a few mind-bending twists to keep things interesting. At the two main transitions between the two dynamics, the voice samples are used to provide an escalation in mood. When a disembodied voice utters the warning “Why not? When you can see giant suns sucked in, disappear without a trace…” it’s somehow the only thing that could possibly set you up for the slow pounding awesomeness that follows.

A particular musical highlight is the passage that opens after the 9:20 mark, consisting of a pulsing guitar married to the drum beat, which itself skips a beat every few cycles implying an odd sense of desperate energy. Each of the riffs are powerful variations on a theme pounded out with unmatched ferocity. Even the two quieter passages (both acting as the calms before storms) follow the same basic rhythm structure and primitive power chords. The track finally dissolves out after 24 minutes into a huge wash of sound as if to cleanse the mind of the preceding mayhem and leaving me utterly satisfied.

Strangely, this album/song despite its lack of variety, despite its length, despite its heavy nature, despite its urgency, despite the screaming and the pounding and the grinding… It has a kind of blissful spaced-out beauty to it that I find very seductive. As a result, Zozobra would make my desert islands discs list if I ever made one.

What it comes down to is this really: Is this the best music I’ve ever heard?

Probably.

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