Old Man Gloom are pretty important to me, as far as music goes (which is a long way). For whatever reason, their particular combination of hardcore, doom metal and experimental noise really floats my boat. Add in a strong aesthetic of primitivism and the primal essence of man as animal, count me in. It’s a heady mix of high-brow and low-brow, fitting squarely into band founder Aaron Turner’s tongue-in-cheek classification of “thinking man’s metal”.
Much has been said of their “supergroup” status, but I don’t really care about that, and neither should you. All you need to know is that Old Man Gloom are better than every other band any of its members is in or has ever been in.
Now that I think about it, Old Man Gloom are probably better any other band ever in the history of everything.
Of course, by the time I actually got on the OMG bandwagon, they had already in hibernation for three years after their powerful release Christmas. As the years rolled by those three years became five, and then six, seven. At this point I became pretty anxious for more Gloom in my life. In 2011, rumours floated around about a fifth OMG album on the way, but most of those rumours seemed to lead nowhere.
Amongst these rumours there appeared an ad for the label Hydra-Head with a book in the background with “OMG 5 2012” on the spine. This ad was fixed immediately afterwards to remove this, so it was hard to tell if this was internet trolling by weirdos, or if it really was a cute little hint.
At one point OMG Institute member Aaron Turner was asked in an interview “is there another Old Man Gloom record coming”. He said “No.”
So was there a new OMG album coming? No.
I mean yes there was.
And it’s called NO. DO YOU SEE? They weren’t lying. They were tricking you!
You should listen to it. And then buy it because you should totally support rad music like this.
I received No on compact disc shortly before leaving the UK on my little trip to Canada, where I live and breathe (and see the sun in wintertime?), so I didn’t really fully digest the record until I reached at least Seattle.
One of the key aspects of the OMG thing is the swampy mixture of ultra heavy metal and dark experimental noise. I don’t mean little bleeps and bloops, I mean real filtered noise, feedback, drones, hums, digital artifacts, and analogue gurgles.
On previous efforts, these two aspects have tended to be split hemispherically into different tracks, which led to some fans who enjoyed the more overtly metal side of things to skip over these carefully crafted noise tracks to the juicy post-hardcore tunes. On No the band have employed a different tactic, particularly after the album’s mid-section, whereby they weave the two disparate approaches together into single tracks in such a way as to force the listener’s attention. It’s a bold gambit.
The album opens naturally with Grand Inversion, a short introduction of organs drones and noise, building the necessary tension this band operates on throughout. Baseline established. The second track Common Species then kicks in with a lo-fi fuzzy guitar riff in the left channel, which is subsumed after several measures in a Christmas-esque scorching sacrificial fire – but punkier and crunchier than ever.
Common Species leads, by way of a lengthy squall of screeching static, feedback, and lush airy drones, into Regain/Rejoin, a tight little stretch of high energy pummeling.
To Carry the Flame is as dense and powerful a metal song as OMG have ever produced. There’s a pretty damn effective anthemic break at this particular track’s climax that, while not exactly “melodic”, is extremely catchy and serves as a pretty phenomenal release for the tension the band has built to this point – like a thunderstorm breaking a seemingly interminable heat wave.
Higher, higher, burning fire
Making music like a choir
Burn the follies of my youth
All my vices and untruths
On that point, there is a lot of musical tension on this record, and much of it remains intentionally unresolved, because Old Man Gloom are not here to lighten your emotional load.
The Forking Path closely resembles bassist Caleb Schofield’s related project Zozobra, with super bass heavy riffage. But it’s the sting in its tail end that really stands out, devolving into excoriating electronic distortion and blind percussive rage. It sounds like someone is intermittently hammering a cast iron bath with a crowbar. Over and over until your brain hurts. It’s not a traditional musical resolution, it’s a visceral and primal catharsis – and one of the albums’s most powerful moments.
Moving onto Shadowed Hand and Rats, both of the “songs” contained within these tracks are spaced out with extended noisy meanderings. This is where the noise geeks like me get their kicks. This is all a part of the intended ebb and flow, of the album, even if that ebb and flow is intentionally unfriendly. That being said, if you’re someone who just wants to listen to those songs on their own, I imagine this technique could be a little frustrating. Sorry folks, Old Man Gloom will not be acquiescing to your personal preferences on this record. As well they should not. The record is called No.
You just want breakneck post-metal tunes from an Isis/Cave-In/Converge supergroup? This just in, the band is saying “No.”
Part of the notion behind No is that it’s about time we stopped being so passive and blindly agreeing to injustices society forces upon us and others. This theme is reflected lyrically in tracks like Rats, which takes a pretty negative view of human civilisation comparing us to cockroaches, rats, ants, tapeworms, ticks… consumers, gluttons, parasites. Not a particularly original position, but very effectively hammered into your skull on this track, by musicians who are good at hammering into skulls.
There is of course the obligatory “mellow” desert song here, in the form of Crescent. These are always a welcome change in pace on OMG records, and this one does not disappoint. It would be cool if they did a little more stuff along these lines, a kind of dusty alternative desert blues thing.
The album closes out with Shuddering Earth, an oddly structured piece that evokes the sprawling scope of Christmas Eve, or their masterwork Zozobra from Seminar III. It kicks off with full-tilt screaming from Aaron Turner, blasts through some solid crusty punk, and then slows into a painfully protracted guitar building into some ritualistic doom metal.
Half-way through its 14 minute run time, the whole endeavour collapses in upon itself into a white dwarf of fizzing, tinnitus-like gutter noise. It’s palette cleansing. It works better than that sounds, if you’re into that sort of thing of course.
If there’s any issue I have with No, it’s only that the band seems to have doubled down on the full-bore intensity of sound that they perfected on Christmas, at the expense of the slightly wider dynamics of their earlier work. There used to be a lot more quieter moments. Even the non-metal sections here are often at ear-scouring volume.
But on the flip side, a good part of its charm is the band’s absolute refusal to comply to conventional wisdom.
The first track is not a barnstorming single, and several of these tracks give over more than half of their running time to drones, static and waves of scorching white noise, and some of them even hide the conventional song parts minutes into their run times. There’s a sense of being unfettered, unburdened by any desire to please. It’s selfish music.
For some that’ll be a turn off, but I find Old Man Gloom have a such a strong and unique take on this aspect of their work that I’m happy to see them take it to such extremes. This band has something to say and they say it as loud as they can. And I for one am glad that I can once again live in a world filled to the brim with Gloom.