Leading this charge toward ascetic minimalism in the early 90’s was Sleep, a band that took it so far they were promptly dropped from their label after turning in an album consisting of one single-riff song, the now-classic Dopesmoker, an hour-plus homage to finding God through colossal weed intake.
Metal monks Al Cisneros and Chris Hakius, ex-bassist and drummer of Sleep, took the basic Sleep formula in a more mature direction in 2003 with Om. Generally consisting of three or four epic songs played only on drums and bass, the albums Om create are mantras capable of transformation. The repetition and structure of their music recalls Buddhist chant, but the songs retain a dramatic arc preventing them from becoming dull. In other words, you can meditate and trance-out while simultaneously having a solid listening experience.
Live, Om is a force of nature. One of my favorite musical moments of all time happened the last time they played Neumos. Noted for being one of the loudest touring acts around, I was perplexed when Om spent the first 20 minutes of their set playing quietly and without distortion. Then, Cisneros stepped on a pedal.
With that one little click, the room filled with a sound more terrifying than anything I’d ever heard. The sound actually felt tangible, like it existed as a solid. Sure, it was a simple trick of adding fuzz and volume boost, but the dichotomy between those two bass tones was so outrageous it filled the audience with fear and awe, like God himself had shot through those amps into our hearts.
Om is now touring with a new drummer, Emil Amos, in support of a new album, God is Good (on Drag City).