3 out of 5
Label: Profound Lore
Produced by: Mell Dettmer
When you’ve been way, way, way around the ol’ music block as Aaron Turner has, and have been responsible for so many different aspects of so many different landmark groups o’er the years, it’s gotta be difficult to keep the investment in one’s work amped up. But Turner has done it for literal decades, backing labels and doing artwork and fronting in / playing in tons of bands, maintaining not only a level of quality, but creativity and – given his general preference for metal – intensity.
While much of this stuff can maybe be considered “bread and butter” type hardcore, trading in elements of the style Turner has helped define over the years, that hasn’t meant his work still hasn’t given us a continual stream of surprises. But, y’know, still, with all of that output, sometimes you just wanna try something “different,” and with SUMAC, Turner approached with a mandate of making the heaviest heavy music that had e’er been heaved, and paired up with Baptists drummer Nick Yacyshyn and bassist-in-demand Brian Cook to make it so.
This mandates – and the drive to craft something new – also seems to have been somewhat limiting, though. SUMAC, as recorded by Mell Dettmer and mastered by Kurt Ballou, sounds the part: it’s all muscular growls and hefty Ballou-low end, with amazingly abstract drumming from Yacyshyn and whip-smart vignettes of thrash and sludge from Turner and Cook, with Aaron bleating typically bleak imagery. But in pushing for the Ultimate Whateverness, the 5 + 1 intro tracks of SUMAC’s debut, The Deal, avoid any sense of structure, lumbering between these vignettes without much pressure on linking them. So, yes, we get some absolutely stellar moments, but they don’t end up really standing out all that much because they’re not propped up by the backing of being songs. Combined with that ‘bleak imagery’ being just that – the lyrics form loose concepts, things associated with meeetttalll – and The Deal doesn’t quite congeal into the slambang colossal crush of music I think Aaron wanted.
It’s a worthwhile listen, for sure, but SUMAC will be more of interest if they evolve past the idea of being loud and dark and into something more sustainable and substantial.