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Album Review + Track Premiere: SUMOKEM Prajnaparadha

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There’s something about the South that evokes a keen sense of melancholy and nostalgia. The vast, mountainous landscapes splashed against searing, crimson skies are easy to translate into the medium of visual arts, whether it be through oil paintings or photography. The state of Arkansas, endearingly referred to as the Natural State, is home to some of the most vivid of these scenes. It also happens to be home to bands creating some of extreme metal’s most evocative and emotional hymns – indeed, there is something inherently spiritual about the music that is born and bred in Arkansas.

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While the best known of these bands is likely Pallbearer, even they'll tell you that the true pioneers of the "Arkansas sound" are Deadbird and the legendary Rwake, both of whom are nearly untouchable in their emotional and sonic weight. Traces of their weeping melodicism juxtaposed against earth-shattering heaviness can be heard in the aforementioned Pallbearer and in Spirit Adrift, whose own Nate Garret cut his teeth in the Arkansas metal scene. There’s another name that very much deserves to be recognized alongside these Arkansas metal pioneers: Little Rock’s Sumokem, who though clearly inspired by their fellow Arkansas brethren, have an almost worshipful and transcendent quality about them that gives them a sonic identity all their own. That transcendence has reached a new high on their third full-length record, Prajnaparadha.

We have an exclusive premiere of the album’s closing track, “Khizer,” which you can listen to below.

The atmospheric “Prologue” serves as an intro to the album’s opening track, “Nihang.” Airy vocals and subdued guitars give way to a cacophony of crushing riffs in a song filled with various peaks and valleys. That Arkansas sound is almost immediately recognizable in the guitar melodies and in vocalist Jacob Sawrie’s majestic yet sorrowful vocal performance. Compared to the band’s excellent sophomore LP The Guardian of Yosemite, Prajnaparadha feels like an entirely different beast altogether and a natural step forward for the band.

Prajnaparadha is a dense album that warrants multiple spins. The song structures are quite unconventional and, cliche as it may sound, the album as a whole plays as though it were a sonic painting. The band uses various textures and tonal colors to weave together emotionally impactful and almost ritualistic compositions that require intent listening. While Sumokem’s foundation is doom metal, they venture into progressive territory more than ever before on Prajnaparadha, and they do so masterfully.

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Of all the cuts on the album, “Fakir” is perhaps the most straightforward, and the Pallbearer inspiration most obvious. A chugging main riff once again carries the soaring vocals of Sawrie, whose contrast between harsh and cleans only adds to the the song’s intensity. As the song reaches its quiet end, it leads directly into album closer “Khizer”, which begins with a creepy synth line against a wave of crashing drums. “Khizer,” too, features a multitude of earthy riffs as its focal point, and concludes the sonic journey that is Prajnaparahda on a high note.

Sumokem have crafted an album that deserves to heard far and wide. It’s difficult to classify the album as just another doom album, and frankly, doing so would be a disservice to the breadth and depth of the musical transcendence Sumokem has achieved on Prajnaparadha.  You’ll be hard-pressed to hear another album quite like it this year. Be sure to support the band and pre-order the album over at their Bandcamp page before it releases next week on Sept. 4.

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