A Transcendent Journey of Sound

October 14th, 2009

OM – The Bowery Ballroom – October 13, 2009

You can’t talk about OM without mentioning vocalist and bassist Al Cisneros’ influential early-’90s doom-metal band Sleep. Virtually a touchstone of the genre, the group has since influenced countless bands, and OM fans haven’t forgotten. “You want to hear ‘Dragonaut’?” Cisneros responded to a request. “You’re 15 years too late.” Clearly he’s moved on.

OM has evolved Sleep’s stoner rock into a transcendent journey of sound. Forgoing never-ending Sabbath riffs, OM draws from the spiritual influences of Middle Eastern vocals, slide sitar and tribal rhythms. Cisneros explained that they are “…personal prayers in a salute to the reality, or God, the light or what you term it.” But it wasn’t a conventional uplifting hymn to the Almighty. This was more of a chant, shrouded in darkness by booming drone bass and head-banging percussion. Grails drummer Emil Amos played on OM’s latest release, God Is Good, and he was center stage, sincerely on the verge of breaking every piece of his drum kit. Cisneros actually did break a bass string about the third song in, and when tracks are 12 minutes long you don’t start again. Instead, he picked up an offstage bass and, to cheers, launched back into the deep groove.

There are many contemplative moments on God Is Good. The band took its time with atypical instrumentation to build toward a meditative state. But onstage at The Bowery, it seemed to be all overwhelming bass melody and driving, almost post-rock-inspired rhythms. Amos established a deceptively slow, heavy beat, that wouldn’t rest between the pounding snare and kick hits. He was a blur of fills, bursting out of a snare roll to crash the cymbal slightly behind time, just to add that little bit of unease. Returning for the encore, Cisnero asked for the stage lights to be turned off, and the crowd rocked in darkness to the shamanistic, ancient rituals rumbling through the room. —Jason Dean