Sumac - “What One Becomes”
Buy on iTunes or through the label Thrill Jockey
A few days ago, Alternative Press wrote an article called “10 band who are too damn heavy for their own good,” and since Joy appeared on the list, I wanted to give it a glance. Most names are common knowledge in their respective genres, such as Trap Them, Weekend Nachos, and Nails. There were even bands we’ve reviewed in the past, like Akhlys. However, there were a few new names to me, one of them being Sumac, the three piece that came together after Aaron Turner (ex-Isis) asked Kurt Ballou (Converge) if he knew anyone willing to join him in making the heaviest music he would ever create. They released their sophomore album, What One Becomes, this past month.
The sludgy doom begins with clattering guitars and drums, in a haze almost reminiscent of Sunn O)))’s White1. The noise builds. Haunting vocals make a minimal footprint in these anxious moments. As the noise ceases, an eerie guitar tone plays a mid ranged solo further bringing the listener into this black hole. Only until the four minute mark we get what some listeners say is some of the first actual music. Guitars chugging, blistering drums and raw guttural vocal work. The album continues slowly, beating along with a dark aura of depraved noise. Sumac shines when the noise and metal clash: heavily distorted noise fills the air, drums and guitar keep rhythm, while a second guitar track painfully rings the higher end, coming together for a terrifying result.
What One Becomes delivers an introspective look at Turner’s anxiety. The range we hear will keep you worrying about the next turn on the album. That dichotomy that's established from onset is massive but never jarring for the listener, although it would have been great to hear the volume turned up on the vocals. It's a stylistic choice to keep them buried, but with lyrics like, “Submerged in presence summoned / It expands with reach, filling rooms / Welling up from the tar choked springs / Reeking black star, shining weary light,” it's a shame that the words don’t penetrate the dense instrumental wall a little more.
As the album approaches its end, I can’t help but look back at it all and ask “What the fuck did I just listen to?” It's a behemoth of a record, but an issue I have with the genre is the lack of major distinguishing elements. That's no different here. With every song clocking in around ten minutes, or up to seventeen in the case of “Blackout,” Sumac will throw every trick they can into each song to keep them from getting dull. It gets to a point about mideay where it can become predictable. That seems like the last thing you want in an album that's supposed to fill you with anxiety.
As a new fan of Sumac, this is pretty good. I’ve listened to it a few times now and enjoy it quite a bit. I’ll admit I haven’t listened to their debut, The Deal, and will do that relatively soon, but as for What One Becomes, its a solid effort.