Obsidian tides will be nature's bane.

Monday, July 9, 2012

REVIEW: Old Man Gloom - NO (2012)

See this post for album info.

Summary: After 8 years, Old Man Gloom have changed little, displaying the same strengths and weaknesses that they have always carried with them.

Check out the review after the jump.

No one expected NO. Old Man Gloom, a supergroup consisting of members of such esteemed acts as Isis, Zozobra, and Converge, has last released music in the form of 2004's Christmas and had barely been heard from since. So, naturally, it came as a huge surprise to many when, out of the blue, Hydra Head Records announced that the elusive group would be embarking on an East Coast tour. This was enough to raise eyebrows, yet the truly confounding thing here was that, apparently, Old Man Gloom would also be selling copies of a brand new album at these dates. This album had been rumored for years, most recently in the form of a subtle easter egg in the background of a promotional Hydra Head image released last year*, yet no one really expected these rumors to go anywhere. Naturally, fans of the band's previous work were rife with anticipation, eagerly awaiting June 26 - when NO would be released to regular outlets - or whenever someone with access to the band's tour dates uploaded a vinyl rip of the album. So, now that the latter has occurred, the question remains: does NO stand strong against the potentially unreasonably high expectations set for it ever since the band last released music 8 years ago?

The answer is twofold. On one hand, Old Man Gloom have, with NO, yet again accomplished what they last achieved on Christmas. It really is wonderful to once more have the opportunity to digest their signature spacey, sludge-influenced hardcore, and they have not regressed a single step since they were last active. In fact, they have not progressed or sidestepped either. NO shows they doing nearly exactly what they were doing in 2004, and while this lack of progression may be a turnoff for some new fans, those who have followed them for a while will probably already be so enamored with what they already sound like that it won't matter that NO is really not all that different from what they have done before. There certainly is something to be said for this perspective. With every one of this record's nine tracks, Old Man Gloom once again prove how good they are at what they do. Ambient pieces like opener 'Grand Inversion' give way to plodding, sludgey romps like 'Common Species' in a glorious balance of aggression and introspection. The latter is one of the album's four tracks clocking in over eight minutes, and while it is undeniably a good listen, Old Man Gloom are arguably at their best when working in short form. The two-and-a-half minute 'Regain/Rejoin' is an absolute home run, with its bass-heavy Southern riffing accentuated by major key leads and Aaron Turner's always-fantastic barks, while cuts like the four-minute 'The Forking Path' provide the perfect proportions of furious hardcore and peaceful soundscapes.

However, when discussing the weaknesses present on NO, "proportions" is a key word. If this album is exceedingly similar to Christmas, its strengths will not be the only thing it shares with that release. All the weaknesses found on Old Man Gloom's old output are, unfortunately, glaringly present on their most recent, and the most glaring of these faults is proportion control. Out of the album's four longer tracks, three of them spend half or more of their duration on ambient soundscapes rather than on the sludge that most listeners want to hear, and while these soundscapes are undoubtedly executed with skill, they come off as filler rather than as an integral part of NO. A prime example is closer 'Shuddering Earth'. When fans first noticed the 14-minute runtime listed for the song on the preorder page, they may have been filled with hope for an atmospheric sludge epic along the lines of 2001's Seminar III: Zozobra, yet in place of this, we get a relatively pleasurable first half of dissonant sludge followed by a second half of ambiance. Again, this ambiance is not an issue in an of itself, but when considering that it consists of much of the duration of tracks like 'Rats,' 'Shadowed Hand,' and 'Shuddering Earth,' one wonders what could have been had Old Man Gloom decided to devote more time to creating the kind of music that the metal community has grown to love them for.

NO is not a bad album by any means. It displays Old Man Gloom performing the kind of hardcore-influenced sludge that they are so undeniably adept at, and this part of their musical persona rarely falters. The one thing that holds back this album from true greatness is that songs like 'Shuddering Earth' suffer from a disproportionate amount of ambient noodling, made all the ore disappointing by the knowledge that Old Man Gloom, as referenced by Seminar III, are incredibly good at crafting longer pieces of music. However, fortunately for fans new and old, this unfortunate misstep is greatly overshadowed by the fact that the parts of NO that contain real substance are just as good as anyone could have ever hoped for. We can only hope that NO will not be followed by yet another nearly decade-long break, and that Old Man Gloom will continue to astound for years to come, learning from their mistakes and bettering themselves with each new release. 



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