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Album Review: OM – Advaitic Songs

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Al Cisneros of stoner titans Sleep and Emil Amos have created a sonic masterpiece with Advaitic Songs.  Om don’t really seem to fit into a genre, they shouldn’t. Genre classifications are useless here, this music is not designed for marketing, it is pure spiritual and artistic exploration. Their sound certainly takes influence from stoner doom and drone, but the way in which they approach lyrical themes and instrumentation is so different from the average metal band that calling them a droney stoner doom band would be limiting. Evidence pointing to Cisneros’s membership of Sleep and Shrinebuilder can be heard but Om’s sound stands apart here. They have evolved away from Sleep and other stoner acts since their first album Variations on a Theme in 2005 and Advaitic Songs proves that their evolution is taking the band to new heights.

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This album is stunning, not only in aesthetic beauty but in its experimentalistic lyrical dexterity and deep spiritualism. Even the song names yield meanings that hint at an ordering designed to be as organic as the music itself. The first song on the album is named ‘Addis’, a quick Google search reveals that this means ‘earth’ and a Hebrew variant of the name ‘Adam’.  It is impossible not to read the loose religious chronology here: from 'Addis' we move to 'A State of Non-Return' – expulsion from Eden and the beginning of man’s induction into knowledge. We then hear 'Gethsemane', which is the name of the garden in which Jesus spends his final hours before the Crucifixion and comes to terms with his fate in conversation with God. 'Sinai', the mountain on which Moses was given the Ten Commandments is the penultimate track, suggestive of enlightenment to come. 'Haqq-al-yaqin' translates to ‘The Total Reality of Certainty’ and brings the spiritual and musical journey to a close as would the final tier of enlightened sainthood to which it seems to refer.

‘Addis’ begins with clean female chanting and swells into pulsing Indian tabla drums. A hypnotic swaying rhythm overlaid with the rich western tones of a cello softens the occasional muffled cymbal crash. This is a graceful, subdued beginning that hints at a heaviness to come as it gradually thickens in texture. The rich tones of cello, plucked strings and tabla intertwine and begin weaving the web of Om’s meditative magic before ‘State of Non-Return’ heralds the beginning of a listening addiction. Al Cisneros’s thick rolling voice kicks in with the towering sludgy bass. By the time ‘Gethsemane’ unfurls Om fans will be hooked by the orchestral beauty and dark mystery of the album. Om certainly haven’t betrayed their fans with a kiss on the cheek here, instead we’re treated to a garden of delights (excuse the pun). ‘Sinai’ and ‘Haqq-Al-Yaqim’ develop religious imagery that ranges from Biblical references to UFO’s (Ezekiel's Wheel), Sufic sainthood belief systems, spiritual plane guardians and wandering faqir’s.

This band don’t shout or scream in their musical expression, however their quietly talented music hints at a beastly greatness. The rumble of the bass is like an underground explosion, the complex instrumentation seems to hide an unspoken mystery and the lyrics seem to contain unattainable wisdoms. Western instruments mix with tabla, santoors and flutes like a musical Israel of coexistent religions, sounds, keys and scales. This album is definitely a journey, one that hints at enlightenment and leads you on twists and turns of meaning. But dissecting the meaning of the lyrics, or the reasoning behind the song ordering is not the key to this album: sit back, relax and let the soundscape wash over you to see for yourself. One of the top releases of 2012 so far, this album is a classic that will just keep growing on you.

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