Coming up with a genuinely original sound creates a challenge: persist with your unique direction, and brace yourself for a choir of critical voices banging on about diminishing returns. Try to move on, and people will pine for the good old days before the reckless adventurism kicked in.
Built on the ruins of much-acclaimed stoner-metal heroes Sleep (who recently reunited to perform genre classic Dopesmoker) by the band’s bassist Al Cisneros and drummer Chris Hakius (replaced in 2008 by Emil Amos), Om’s approach (Black Sabbath-orientated riff-heavy doom ‘n’ gloom slowed down to a monolithic sludge that admits no ingredients apart from drums and bass) has certainly produced a one-off sound. Add lyrics drenched in assorted religious themes, and the outcome has often suggested a band trekking towards the higher ground of spiritual enlightenment whilst the simultaneously drilling relentlessly towards the centre of the earth in search of the none-more-black terrain of Hades. At its best it’s been an intoxicatingly potent brew. Even so, the duo’s extremely limited palette has risked rendering their output more than a bit predictable.
As such, the unexpected lightness of touch and additional elements showcased during opener ‘Addis’ and closer ‘Haqq-Al-Yagin’ on the duo’s fifth full-length album come as a breath of fresh air. The latter is particularly impressive; the moment when the gently plucked acoustic guitar gives way to soaring strings is remarkably gentle and beautiful for a band renowned for fuzz-fuelled bombardments. Om remain intent on conjuring hypnosis via repetition, but having more instruments on hand – cello, violin, flute – has inspired the duo to experiment with more melodic variation, adding a welcome element of surprise and subtlety to the proceedings. The instrumental sections on these highlights are often little short of sublime: the most majestic parts of their desert sun-scorched, doomy string-laden mystical vibes bring to mind the sorely underrated Grails (drummer Amos’ other band) around the time of 2006’s career-peak Burning Off Impurities, allowing Om to break away from the musically-restricted corner they were starting to paint themselves into.
Similarly daring reboots have been undertaken with great success by Om’s peers – just think of Earth, who went from searching for the doomiest possible drone to pursuing a singularly enticing line in doom-laden Americana not a million miles removed from Crazy Horse jams executed in extreme slow motion. Unfortunately, Om’s redesign runs out of steam before such a totally convincing “new direction” has been conjured. Too often, Advaitic Songs is happy to revert to Om’s default settings, with added cello. When the music fails to ignite, it’s hard not to notice the more monotonous and ponderous aspects of Om; little of great interest beyond a mercilessly pounding drum beat occurs during the 10+ minute of ‘Sinai’, inching Cisneros’s typically humourless incantations worryingly close to unintentional self-parody.