Thursday, 29 January 2015

SUMAC - The Deal (Album Review)

Album Type: Full-Length
Date Released: 17/2/2015
Label: Profound Lore/SIGE Records

‘The Deal’ CD//LP//DD track listing:

1). Spectral Glod (03:19)
2). Thorn In The Lion’s Paw (08:56)
3). Hollow King (12:22)
4). Blight’s End Angel (10:18)
5). The Deal (13:42)
6). The Radiance Of Being (05:16)


Aaron Turner | Voccals, Guitars
Nick Yacyshyn | Drums
Brian Cook | Bass


SUMAC’s debut is undoubtedly among the most anticipated releases from the heavy underground in 2015. Featuring one of the most respected dudes in the industry, Aaron Turner (Isis, Mamiffer, Old Man Gloom) on guitar and vocal duty, Nick Yacyshyn (best known as the Grohl-celebrated drummer of Baptists) and having been mixed by Kurt Ballou. Bass player Brian Cook (Botch, Russian Circles, These Arms Are Snakes) has also lent his hand to the project but is slated to remain mostly on the sidelines due to obligations with RC. With such a line-up, this was bound to be that highlight you need to the start the year.

There’s no place for classical song structures in SUMAC’s dominion, almost all of the tracks steadily and violently unfold before you, the shifts in the course slowly revealing themselves through patient repetition, giving hints of where it all might be headed.  Offering only a glimpse into this unforgiving realm, ‘Spectral Gold’ imparts with a feeling of trepidation, acting as a warning to heed the forthcoming onslaught.

At the sound of the bell’s toll, you’re thrust into this harsh world. ‘A Thorn In The Lion’s Paw’ woundn't sound amiss as a soundtrack to a scene in a dismal murder mystery, where the protagonist finds himself amidst a situation that has escalated to the point of no return.  The opening piano notes acting as a realization of just how far gone it all is. Briefly into the track, the threatening riffs and furious vocals come in at short intervals and set the album off to a very strong start. The fluctuating rhythm patterns leave quite a bit of headroom and give a solid sense of what one can expect from the rest of these tracks. There’s a direness unceasingly looming above your head throughout the album that refrains from clearly stating what exactly it embodies. The atmosphere doesn’t constantly stay this uncharitable though. As the second track draws to a close, a melodic piano-draped outro can be heard that quietly dissolves into the emptiness of a metallic-sounding room.

‘Hollow King’ carries on the menacing theme. The abiding guitar riffs increasingly feeding the foreboding feeling inside and Aaron’s strained calls, sound like a battle cry preceding an inevitable collision. The riffs here are so immersive and unrelenting and in combination with the repetitiousness of the drumming, completely seize you, delving only deeper into the fold. There’s so many differing ideas packed into this one but never do they feel as if the band were deviating from their path. Every thrust and pull is exactly where it’s supposed to be. The whole track is atmospheric and never loses that strong sense of the surrounding space, the room occasionally heard expanding and then closing in again. A most calculated cacophonic break-down leads to a turn at the seven-minute mark. With a sudden halt and a complete alteration in direction, the track comes close to something that could easily have featured on that acclaimed Baptists record of yesteryear. One of the highlights of the record has to be the culmination here though. Closing with relentless bludgeoning that’s set to a backdrop of decimating screeches, it leaves you scrambling for whatever parts of your brain remain.

Unless you are feeling completely devastated beyond this point (which is highly likely), you will find the opening notes of ‘Blight’s End Angel’ resounding.  As distorted as they’re presented, they’re strikingly ambrosial. These act as a harbinger of the comparative ease on offer throughout this one, in the wake of bygone annihilation. The track doesn’t remain wholly placid though, as it’s not long until the pace picks back up. The drums here sound especially driven, akin to a persistent trudge. Remarkably, the mood is elevating, opposed to the decimation of fore and really feels as an attempt at gathering the previously scattered debris to restore some well-needed composure. The squealing of the guitars here signifies a resolute endurance in staying the course. In my eyes, this is a definite contender for strongest composition on the whole album, really engulfing one’s attention the whole way through. The outro is a return to the beauty of its opening, calmly leading you towards the album’s imminent conclusion.

In contrast, the title-track alleviates none of the pain roused on the earlier tracks and mercilessly plods on. With its increased focus ‘The Deal’ employs much of the same dread imposed earlier and returns to again eroding that firm ground you just barely found to stand on.  The whole track is coated with guitar convulsions, with Aaron’s roars rearing their ugly head and some acute plucking interspersed throughout to add to the distress. At times, the vocals fade way out to obscurity, as if to further instil the notion that you’re completely on your own here. A couple of pace-changes and melodic interludes dispersed in between really accentuate the ferocious pummelling even more, as it blaringly returns. The last of such intermissions sets the stage for the remaining several minutes. What follows is a compelling break-down that is spent driving home some singular, nameless and thoroughly grievous notion, as if to make sure that all parties involved fully understood the ramifications of backing out of this sinister contract they’ve stepped into. The ensuing build-up is suffused with compelling urgency ceasing only as Aaron begins to grunt the album’s title like a frantic mantra. A cacophony of galling guitars finally carries you off to an unpleasant sort of bliss.

Anyone that’s expressed diligence to come this far will be in for a reward as the only real consolation comes in the form of the closing track ‘The Radiance of Being’. The playing here is slightly reminiscent of Neil Young’s in Jarmusch’s Dead Man, albeit with a healthy dose of distortion. The guitar notes are stunning in their simplicity yet markedly glaring all the same, in their apex lamenting the arduousness of the undertaking yet ultimately leaving the tale inconclusive as they fade.

As the last track draws to a close, one is left thinking whether ‘The Deal’ in question wasn’t one the band made with the devil. This debut has undoubtedly been crafted by some diabolically masterful musicianship. What SUMAC have come up with, sounds like a band that has been playing together for years, which is completely at odds with the fact that up until a month ago, all three of the members hadn’t had a chance to jam together for once. Despite such an arrangement, ‘The Deal’ really is everything we could have imagined, yet the resulting creation is no less astounding.

Words by: Joosep Nilk

You can pick up a DD copy here and LP here

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