OM - Variations On a Theme LP
Over the past few months, fans of stoic repetition have been feasting on new (or reissued) works by Earth, Sunn0))), and Orthrelm, among others. During this period of drone-made-flesh, Om's Variations on a Theme was released and has since served as one of my steadiest musical companions. It admittedly took a while for me to turn my appreciation into words, and by now it's already common enough knowledge that craggy toothed ex-Sleep guitarist Matt Pike joined forces with drummer Des Kensel and the inimitable low-ender Joe Preston in the unabashedly rockist High On Fire. Around the time Blessed Black Wings came out, Sleep's other two-thirds, the locked-groove rhythm section of bassist/vocalist Al Cisneros and drummer Chris Hakius, resurfaced as Om.
Om retains more of the Sleep vibe than High On Fire, essentially continuing along the lines of the Sabbathian one-track, 52-minute opus pocus Jerusalem (and its subsequent rebirth as the lenghtier, re-masted original Jerusalem demo recording, Dopesmoker), but with a tighter, jauntier step. Cisneros and Hakius don't bother replacing Pike with a new set of six strings: The two go it sans guitar and get even closer to the essence of Sleep's raison d'\xEAtre.
Gone also are the hempy lyrics à la Jerusalem's "Drop out of life with bong in hand/ Follow the smoke toward the riff filled land." I did a fairly close reading of the accompanying words (sung like Sabbath mantra) and the closest linkage I could find was "seed." The aforementioned theme of flight is instead evoked via stately salvos like "to sun glides the albatross," "the flight to freedom gradient raise the called ascendant," "I climb toward the sun to breath the universal," etc. God bless, Homer and all of this friends...
But whatever the pot percentage, the three gargantuan tracks clock in at 21:18 ("On The Mountain at Dawn"), 11:56 ("Kapila's Theme"), and 11:54 ("Annapurna") respectively, and the repetitious riffs flow plentiful. Variations on a Theme is the ideal title: "On The Mountain At Dawn" sets the pace, "Kapila's Theme" slows it down and allows more space for tonal resonance (and a "blue stoned moon") as the protagonist walks toward a mountain and the horizon, and the climactic "Annapurna" shifts into more upbeat drumming (fills dart beside the cymbal) and crescendo. It's a buoyant resolution with lyrics that repeat time again until the final intonation of our High Priest: "Lazarus advance the flight to freedom." Amen.
This is niche listening: If you dig the aforementioned bands, this is up your sleeve. If you're concerned with resolution, while Variations on a Theme is hypnotic (and even catchy), it might not satisfy certain cravings: Icarus caught in sustained holding pattern, resulting in slow-release revelation rather than precipitous meltdown. Watch that fucker soar.