Om - Pilgrimage Review
by Mark Hensch
In Hindu thought, the "Om" is a syllable representing the natural vibrations of the universe itself. Formed in 2003 out of the ashes of seminal stoner-metal outfit Sleep, it seems like Om has tried with increasing fervor to capture this grand, all-consuming cosmic shaking on CD. Like a frequently reincarnated spirit at last achieving nirvana and breaking the cycle of life-and-death, Pilgrimage is where Om finally finds musical enlightenment.
To describe this wonderful mental journey as anything less than spiritual in its warm, balmy atmospheres would be a total crime. Composed solely of bassist/vocalist Al Cisneros and drummer Chris Hakius, at first glance it would seem that Om could neither conjure up credible auras nor lasting heaviness. Thankfully, such misgivings dissipate faster than sin at the pearly gates of Heaven. Om is crushingly cerebral in its heaviness, just not in a way that grants immediacy or low-end rumble.
Take the opening title track for example. "Pilgrimage" is quite possibly the most peaceful thing I've ever heard, a sort of cosmic punch of tranquility. Ethereal bass lines snake lazily through tangles of slow, pulsing percussion; the song sounds like less a 2007 track from a band on Southern Lord and more an ancient religious ritual in the heart of the Middle East. Hakius' drumming is tribal and relaxed, gradually easing Cisneros' cloudy bass over immeasurable vistas of the mind's eye. Best of all are the quiet, soothing vocals---hushed monastic chanting ebbing-and-flowing in fluid time to the music, exploring realms of spiritual existence and change. It comes together in a quietly mind-blowing whole, something that is somehow simultaneously jaw-dropping and absurdly relaxing all at the same time.
The brief rhythmic chug of "Godhead" breaks this esoteric bliss, not unlike an eclipse during a hot summer's day. Ominous and trance-inducing rumbles throb menacingly before launching into a clanging, explosive stoner anthem that puts Sleep's Dopesmoker to the test. The grooves are huge, majestic, and joyous, acting like souls bursting forth from bodies and flying skywards towards Heaven. While the vocals heard earlier on "Pilgrimage" were quiet and hypnotic, these vocals are forceful, repeated mantras, the kind of power-invoking chants that expand minds and break down levels of consciouness.
"Bhima's Theme," meanwhile, is perhaps my favorite song on the disc. Picture a thick but airy cloud slowly spiraling upward into a furious storm over great lengths of time, and you've got the general idea of this glorious song. Rolling, circular grooves encircle slow-but-muscular percussion while providing tantric rhythms of cosmic proportions. Things grow steadily larger-and-larger, only to collapse like a gust of wind from lungs into a quiet, morose section. This moody jaunt whispers flickering bass-lines at listeners, only to explode into a cadence call of throaty vocals from Cisneros. The man's spirited incantations invoke mystic sigils and esoteric realities, a true sign that his sing-song hypnotism works. Cap it off with one last display of mind-collapsing heaviness, and one has stumbled upon doom nirvana with "Bhima's Theme." To be blunt, I love getting lost in music like this, and with a little patience, you will too.
The entire album returns full-circle with "Pilgrimage(Reprise)," a much-shortened return to the first song. Though little if anything is musically different, thematically one cannot ignore the circular existentialist connotations a song like this holds. It is also worth noting that it makes for a sublimely peaceful end to a fantastically soothing CD.
Pilgrimage is both heavy and light, an exercise in duality that always works. At times immaterial, soft, and almost gloriously bare, at others the CD rages with righteous fury and uplifting, radiant fireworks. Like all great journeys, the album feels like it has done something life-altering to you when it is done. There is truly no other music out there like this right now, so embark on this particular Pilgrimage now before it is too late.
3. Bhima's Theme
4. Pilgrimage (Reprise)
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Om - Pilgrimage
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