Aaron Tuner sure keeps himself busy. After the demise of Isis back in 2010, Turner has been active musically with other acts such as Old Man Gloom and Mamiffer, while at the same time being a part of SIGE Records alongside Faith Coloccia. There have been quite a few projects that have spawned lately, with Jodis and Greymachine standing out and House of Low Culture still going strong. But there is no way that people did not start getting more and more excited when Turner announced his latest project Sumac, since it was mentioned that this would be a full-time band and not another one-off or studio project.
In The Deal, the debut album of Sumac, there exist a few familiar aspects of Turner’s songwriting. The heavy sludge vibe is at large obviously, especially in tracks such as “Blight End’s Angel” with the heavy groove that much is obvious. And there are even moments that carry an almost early Isis and Godflesh-ian tone to them, such as the ending of the before mentioned track. Interestingly enough there are also some instances where the band is undertaking a more hardcore-esque path, as is the case with parts of “Hollow King.” That of course is not such a big surprise since Nick Yacyshyn (also of Baptists) is the drummer for Sumac.
The performance of Yacyshyn in this album has been one of the most intriguing parts of The Deal. Firstly it is very interesting to see a drummer, and a great one at that, who has been a member of a crust band adapt his playing to the structures of Turner’s songs. And he really nails it in The Deal. The patterns that Yacyshyn comes up with to accommodate Turner’s riffs are tremendous, giving more impact and power to the music. The energy that overflows from The Deal has been a product of his playing. From the very introduction of the drums in “Thorn In The Lion’s Paw” he has been unstoppable. The way that the drumming can help build up tracks, as is the case with “Blight’s End Angel” and the manner in which he can just unleash sudden mental assaults, as he does in parts of “Hollow King,” is a huge boost for the album.
The impressive line-up of Sumac is completed with the addition of Brian Cook, although it has been unclear yet if Cook is a full-time member. Cook currently is the bass player of post-rock instrumental band Russian Circles, and has also been a member of the insane post-hardcore act These Arms Are Snakes and legendary mathcore powerhouse Botch. His style of playing fits perfectly with both Yacyshyn and Turner and provides the spine of The Deal. His bass offers both the perfect foundation for the heavy parts of the album and the moments where Yacyshyn’s playing starts to get out of hand.
The power with which Sumac is able to knock you down and the drive of their music is found in every twist and turn of The Deal. The chugging guitars have alongside the drums in “Hollow King” showcase that in the most intense way. And even when Turner takes a more straightforward approach with his playing, Yacyshyn is still able to come up with something special in the drums. That of course works the other way round as well, when some of the more minimalistic tendencies of the band are revealed. In “Thorn In The Lion’s Paw” Turner’s solitary guitar gives start to a minimalistic moment of the track, with the drumming taking a step back. Interestingly enough the roles are reversed in “Hollow King” with the drums leading a minimalistic part of the track while the guitar is offering some nice sonic experimentation.
Of course that part of Turner’s playing would not miss from Sumac. The experimentation and drone tendencies are quite obvious, with the ambiance rising up. The sparse guitars of “Spectral Gold” reveal a more threatening face of the band with the ever shifting background resulting in a chaos of soundscapes being splattered across the frequency range. This approach is also found in the closing track of the album, “The Radiance of Being” with just the guitar appearing in the song. But there are moments within the heavier songs when Sumac takes a step back and reveal a different personification. The title track is an example of that mentality with a more mesmerizing part appearing, slowly submerging to the depths of the track.
What is also quite interesting is the way in which Turner lays out his guitar parts. What has been true for most of his other bands, is also true for Sumac. That means a wall of sound is coming towards you and there is nothing that can stop it. The weight of the guitars is unbearable and the way they take over is extraordinary, with the drive of “Thorn In The Lion’s Paw” being a direct result of that. On the other hand, the circling parts of “Hollow King” and the huge hook of the song show the extent of Turner playing, as do the guitar licks in the track. The way that feedback is implemented in that song is squeezing all the malice of the band. The dissonant parts in this album also play a big part, especially in the title track, really adding up to the song. And of course you also get these vocals, really out to get you this time round with their deep aggressive outlook. The unearthly vibe that they carry in “Blight’s End Angel” and the way that they are delivered in the title track makes them stand out in the most sickening way possible.
What really strikes me with The Deal apart from its structures and weight is the energy that it projects to the listener. The mass of the songs and the extent that this band goes to in order to squeeze the most out of their performance is truly awe-inspiring. It is quite unavoidable not to compare Sumac with the other bands that any of these guys have participated in, but what makes The Deal stand out is how the identity of each individual member is being revealed in the final result. But the scariest part, considering the musical path that Turner and co. has followed, is where they will take things next.