While it feels like many contemporary artists only release music simply for the sake of releasing music, some albums exist to make musical statements, and in a sense, advance musicality in general. Of all the doom metal bands in the world, there are a few that stand out as being innovators, and Om is one of them. On their fifth studio album, Advaitic Songs, Om reinvent Arabic music as monolithic, drone-heavy rock that perfectly spans the territory between psych-rock, doom metal, and traditional Arabic music.
My accreditation with metal in general comes from listening to, writing, and performing hard rock and metal of various styles over many years. Talent and originality are much harder to come by than it may seem; most artists’ idea of originality in metal is the introduction of instruments other than bass, guitar, or drums. In that sense, Om‘s entire methodology could be seen as an upset; they are a band consisting of only two people: a bassist/vocalist and a drummer. Given this, it’s surprising that they can even compete within the genre, but Om succeed with songwriting and arrangement skills far superior to many others.
On Advaitic Songs, more than any other album of theirs, Om emulate the sound of Tibetan chants, with deep, droning bass underlying sparse and repetitive melodies that get tossed between both instruments and vocals, making the arrangements simultaneously heavy and dense, yet thin and repetitious; the balance is perfect, and the atmosphere is flawless. The effect is most evident on “Haqq al-Yaqin,” a piece that, at 11-and-a-half minutes, is the longest on the album. Repetitive percussion makes the perfect foundation for the alternating cello riffs and sparse, sung verses. It’s entrancing, and even though the song never evolves rhythmically, it’s the dense nature of the song that gives it its appeal. After the halfway mark, the vocals drop out and give way to a multitude of solos from various instruments, both ethnic and modern in nature, capping the album with beautiful harmony.
Of any song, “State of Non-Return” is definitely the keeper, featuring traditional doom elements such as distorted guitars and metal drumming next to cello riffs and sinister vocals. The words almost seem to be directly translated from Arabic, lacking grammatical clarity, but brimming with prophetic description: “Then the tomb release me/And the phoenix rise triumphant/And walks into the solitude ground/The soul submerge intense.” Religion runs deep within the album’s veins, from the title of the record, which references Hindu philosophy, to the portrait of John the Baptist (a prophet preceding Muhammad) on the cover, and the “Mantra for Healing” in the album’s opener, “Addis.” It’s a somber kind of reverence, one that seems like the musical incarnation of a sort of concentrated, mature religious study.
While Advaitic Songs is a testament to the power of originality and concept, it’s only downfall is its musical content. Although it works advantageously in places, the repetitive, droning nature of some songs becomes a bit too lengthy and drawn-out at times. The opening three minutes of “Sinai,” for instance, are little but a drone, and the rest of the song does little in the way of advancing that sound. It’s ten minutes that, after the first listen, becomes a bit tedious. There are sections of the other songs that follow suit, but where the album falls short in content, it certainly makes up for in atmosphere.
Advaitic Songs is the type of album that will reward listeners with one of the most well-crafted atmospheres this year has offered up so far, and in doing so progresses the entire genre of doom metal (and psych-rock). Though it’s musically sparse content may get a little monotonous at times, it’s originality, arrangement, and meticulous attention to detail make it a drastic standout.