The winter of Gloom is upon us folks. It is time for a review of the new Old Man Gloom album The Ape of God, I suppose.
Oh, did I say album, I meant albums! There are in fact two new Old Man Gloom albums, and wouldn’t you know, both of them are named The Ape of God. Which one do I like best? Well, it’s a bit of a toss-up at the moment, they both have their qualities, but I’d have to say right at this moment I like The Ape of God a little more than The Ape of God, but who knows, maybe tomorrow I’ll wake up screaming “I WAS WRONG!” I mean, I’ll probably do that anyway, but perhaps it’ll be about Old Man Gloom for once and not every decision I have ever made in my pitiful life…
Old Man Gloom feature in an informative and entertaining little documentary called Here is a Gift For You that you can watch below if you so wish:
Early in this film, the film-maker Kenneth Thomas asks people with varying pre-existing awareness of the band try to discern what a band called Old Man Gloom might sound like. 2 minutes and 11 seconds in, an attractive young woman wearing thin wiry glasses says “Old Man Gloom…” and after a short moment of internal speculation looks at the film-maker and says “Pretentious?” The young woman at the reception desk offers “Folk doom metal. That’s what it sounds like.”
I actually think they’re both kind of spot on, but I’m rather more amused and obsessed with the first of these. Here then is a short thesis on pretentiousness as pertains to the fine and upstanding Institute of the Old Man Gloom and the The Ape of God marketing strategy:
Old Man Gloom… Pretentious?
It’s funny (not ha ha funny) because the word pretentious was used for many years by music journalists as a weapon against any sense of ambition or perceived pomposity. Up until as late as the early 2000s, you weren’t allowed to say in public that you liked Pink Floyd, probably the most mainstream and least “progressive” band of the 1970s’ progressive rock epoch.
Things have changed a bit on that front, and we all seem a bit more forgiving of that kind of thing, but pretentious is still deployed primarily as a lazy attack-word. I don’t like X, X is pretentious. It’s used somewhat incorrectly in many cases. Wiktionary presents the following definition:
pretentious (comparative more pretentious, superlative most pretentious)
- Marked by an unwarranted claim to importance or distinction.
Their song titles are pretentious in the context of their basic lyrics.
- Ostentatious; intended to impress others.
Her dress was obviously more pretentious than comfortable.
All music could by this definition be called pretentious, because a bunch of people making a series of noises for public consumption is almost certainly of no real objective value. Yet music is often of great subjective value to us.
So simply making music cannot be enough to be labelled pretentious, and simply making ambitious artistic choices is not necessarily more pretentious than making simpler choices. I guess the notion they are subscribing to is that of self-importance, a band or artist thinking themselves to be above others, making something of greater worth.
I think if any band wears this form of pretension on its sleeve, it’s OMG, and if anything, they own it. You call them pretentious, they’ll come back more pretentious than you could possibly imagine, because fuck you, that’s why.
OMG seems self-aware enough to realise that it is a fairly fringe concern for most people. Yet they present themselves as if they believe they are the most important band in the world, making the most important music ever made. It may actually be the most important music ever made, to me, but that likely means nothing to you. What’s important is that OMG are serious about their music, about their dystopian modern-primitive aesthetic, but not so-serious about it, and definitely not serious about themselves. They’re self-admittedly dedicated to the mythological simian as a trickster spirit.
Therefore it should perhaps be no wonder that after an inexplicably successful marketing prank, the eagerly awaited new Old Man Gloom record The Ape of God turned out to actually be two new Old Man Gloom records both called The Ape of God, along with a third, specially re-assembled promo version half-way between both, also called The Ape of God. Any reviews of The Ape of God before release were of this special fake version. Hopefully the following diagram will make this all very clear:
The Peter Gabriel Problem
The release of two identically titled albums presents a problem for today’s digital music nerds, of which I am one. What do these records get called in our digital collections to differentiate them? Are we to consider them two halves of a whole and concatenate them into one mega-record? Are we to dub them The Ape of God I and The Ape of God II by reference to the their perhaps-arbitrary catalogue numbers? Are we to sequence them into a record of our own design as with the promo copies?
This is what we call in the music collecting hobby the Peter Gabriel Problem (I just made that up, by the way). Of course, Peter Gabriel didn’t release Peter Gabriel, Peter Gabriel, Peter Gabriel, and Peter Gabriel on the same day, so the delineation in his case is clearer. Also, those albums all have markedly different covers. The Ape of God and The Ape of God have nearly identical covers, which even vary between vinyl, CD and digital versions, because of course they do. Old Man Gloom is not concerned with your convenience, asshole.
I have settled on labelling them The Ape of God (I) and The Ape of God (II) in the order of their catalogue numbers PFL145 and PFL145.5 respectively. I suppose it’ll not matter which one is which in conversation, because I rarely speak to other people about anything as it is, let alone about music, let alone about specific albums, let alone about specific Old Man Gloom albums. For the purposes of this review I will call them both by their proper official names, The Ape of God, because this is endlessly hilarious to me.
So, what of these actual albums?
The Ape of God
(Profound Lore Records / PFL 145)
The Ape of God has 8 tracks, of comparatively short length. Although saying that, one of the songs is about 9 minutes, and the average track length is over 5 minutes. The album is 43 minutes long, which is shorter than No or Christmas (that album is ten years old), but this turns out to be the right length for this record.
OMG are the product of several perhaps-contrary musical intentions which are reflected in the other less important music of its individual members: Converge, Cave In, Doomriders, Isis, House of Low Culture, et al.
Primary among these influences are intensely riff-heavy sludge and hardcore influences, and no less importantly, abstract noise-inflected dark ambient abstraction. These two aspects, each compelling in their own right, have been separated quite neatly into each track on earlier releases such as Seminar II: The Holy Rites of Primitivism Regressionism and Christmas, but from No onward, these have become interwoven in a way that is surely designed to annoy the pure metal heads out there. As much as the band are noise-nerds (Aaron Turner especially), I think OMG do this at least partially as an act of self-sabotage. It’s all a part of being a prankster. Confrontation and intentional frustration are the tools of their trade.
Case in point, the previously teased song “The Lash” is about 2 minutes long, but the track on the album clocks in at almost 7 minutes. The teased promo version only comprises the end of the track. Leading into this, dirty, airy drones and bursts of noise guitar meander through clattering, rumbling valleys of sound, painting a kind of dystopia panorama of post-industrial decay. They delay your gratification.
All this amorphous noise between the “song” material has always been vital to the true OMG experience, but even on No they weren’t so daring as they have been here. On this record there’s only one track, “Simia Dei”, that isn’t buffered by at least 30 seconds of this hiss and hum, and though it’s relatively chilled and smooth, it’s hardly a catchy balls-out rocker like earlier hits “To Carry the Flame” or “Hot Salvation”.
In fact, the songs here are less concerned with immediacy, and heavy hooks than ever. Unlike Seminar II or Christmas, it’s hard to point to anything here that’s a fun and easy starting point. Certainly not on this disc anyway (see the other The Ape of God‘s “Predators”). OMG’s anthemic tendencies are reigned in here, allowing the pure brutality and rage of tracks like closer “After You’re Dead” to shine. The longest track here, “Shoulder Meat”, is comprised primarily of repetitive pummelling and seething anger.
The resulting effect is that despite its shorter tracks and faster tempos, this disc is perhaps less accessible than its companion. Which is not to say it’s less memorable or enjoyable, it’s just a different approach. It cuts narrower and therefore deeper. Overall, the record leans heavily into the hardcore noisy abrasive tones of No, and in many ways feels like a harsher and darker follow-up to that record. Despite the superabundance of interstitial noise, it feels more intense, more sustained in its fury.
Stellar closer “After You’re Dead” rather appropriately dissolves into cathartic simian hysteria. What else can you do after that much focussed primal rage but collapse to the floor a gibbering wreck?
The Ape of God
(Profound Lore Records / PFL 145.5)
As I mentioned earlier, The Ape of God is my favourite of the two discs, containing half as many tracks as The Ape of God, with lengthier, generally slower song structures. It is closer in tone to the best OMG record Seminar III: Zozobra.
Take the truly fantastic “A Hideous Nightmare Lies Upon the World” . The track is peppered throughout with the voice Scott Vermeire, of underrated fellow tricksters Sad Vicious, here acting out a fairly alarming one-man play about someone pleading for a doctor to end a suffering man’s life, the doctor refusing, and the suffering man screaming in pain. This contribution fulfils a similar role to the samples on Seminar III, but is bespoke and marginally less campy. It is also a terrifyingly direct exploration of painful suffering and death. Play it to your kids before bed, is what I am saying.
The oddball on The Ape of God is perhaps “Predators” which is a bit faster than the other tracks here, similar in pace to the other The Ape of God, or to bassist Caleb Schofield’s project Zozobra. Schofield led-tracks are always a nice change of pace on every OMG release. True to form, there’s a simple but kick-ass melodic guitar hook buried in this song’s main riff. Despite descending into obnoxiously noisy drones, the meat of this track is probably the most radio-friendly cut from the two albums, and it’s interesting that it’s really the only one that gets straight down to business right away.
Indeed, despite the longer tracks, The Ape of God actually seems a little more accessible to my ears, perhaps because it focuses more on OMG’s epic slowly swirling wall-of-sound approach. There’s more melody buried in the noise here, and the longer structures allow the ideas to breathe and unfold at a more relaxed pace.
Opener “Burden” typifies this approach, with the tinnitus-like ringing of its introductory minutes slowly being subsumed in washes of noise, squelching digital artifacts, and distorted guitar, before a rhythm kicks in after three and a half minutes.
In true Gloom style, closer “Arrows to Our Hearts” is the most experimental track. It crawls for the most part, and has the most mellow vocals of either record, reminiscent of Aaron Tuner’s work with Isis or Jodis. There have certainly been moments of relative calm on every OMG record, and although it’s no analogue to the desert rock anthems of “Deserts in Your Eyes” from Seminar II, or “Crescent” from No, “Arrows” blends elements of these, along with classic “Christmas Eve” and the jarring discordance of “Shuddering Earth” from No into something effective and new.
This much is clear by the end of this exhaustive endeavour: Old Man Gloom will not compromise their vision, or waver from their pretentious musical mission. And so in that light I leave you with a recent public statement from the Institute’s press room: