The announcement on the newest band from Aaron Turner (Isis, Old Man Gloom) was one of the most intriguing news in 2014. And things only got more exciting as the line-up of the new band was confirmed to include bassist Brian Cook (Russian Circles) and drummer Nick Yacyshyn (Baptists), as well as the members stating that SUMAC would be a full-time entity and not a project that would sporadically put out music. And they have been true to their word, not only by releasing soon their debut album, The Deal, but by following it just a year later with What One Becomes.
The Deal might not have been a big leap forward in terms of the progressive mindset that the members of the band are known for, but it was a great introduction to SUMAC, and the aspects of heavy music that the band was going to explore. Long tracks, filled with the heavy riffs of Turner, the insane drumming of Yacyshyn and the thundering bass of Cook, were presented, encompassing great energy and drive. What One Becomes acts as the stylistic descendant if The Deal, although the sound of SUMAC has undergone a slight evolution.
As was the case with The Deal, SUMAC bring out their most aggressive character in a sludge form, initiated from the huge guitars and the slow pace. The start of “Image of Control” is such an instance of this approach, while at other times, SUMAC will go completely overboard creating an all-devouring riffology that covers the soundscapes. This approach has been apparent in Turner's other projects, mainly Isis and Old Man Gloom, and even though SUMAC share some similarities with the aforementioned groups, the band feels more like a mutation of these styles than a mere recycling of ideas. A quick example is the warping groove of “Rigid Man” and the crust-like moments in “Clutch of Oblivion,” which see the band moving into new areas, finding a strange hybrid crust/black/sludge state.
With the sludge state, dissonance is not a far-fetched leap. Throughout the album the guitar parts drench the scenery with some serious venom (the lead parts in the ending of “Rigid Man” for example,) managing to create an edgier sound. This is also further evolved to contain slithering manifestations, creeping in the main body of work and infecting them with their cacophonous injections. There is the flip-side of dissonance however, and no matter how extreme What One Becomes might get, SUMAC make sure to include certain melodic interludes. Appearing in solitary states, the guitar leads take on a delicate characteristic amidst a sea of sludge, while their liquid feature flatter the main structure of the tracks.
As was the case with The Deal, so it holds true with What One Becomes as well. The aspect that really separates SUMAC is their leaning towards a free form. This is visited by the band in more than one ways. There is the noise/drone approach, which sees SUMAC beginning to construct soundscapes, slowly crafting a rich background for their tracks, a backbone for the album. The ambient leanings aid further in exploring this aspect, constructing with minimalism atmospheric dystopian settings. Shades of ritualism begin to arise from this notion, or horrific post-apocalyptic settings as the band continues its descent. The other way in which this free form regime unfolds is through the members' improvisational approach. The switch from sludge to full-on improv feels like a challenging process, but that does not seem to be an issue for SUMAC. A listen to “Blackout” will convince you, as the band travels from sludge fury, to ritualism, only to reach an unnerving '70s psyched bliss.
What One Becomes re-introduces more fiercely the distinct aspects of The Deal. All the weight and hostility of the debut album are still there, but the most intriguing parts of SUMAC have been expanded, resulting in a free-flowing album of experimental heavy music.
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