SUMAC – What One Becomes

4 out of 5

Label: Thrill Jockey

Produced by: Kurt Ballou

SUMAC’s quest: to be the heaviest, sludgiest thing of all-est times. Amidst a pantheon of metal giants across some decades, that’s quite a quest, but SUMACer Aaron Turner is a member of that pantheon, several times over, so he definitely has a chance.

SUMAC’s debut, The Deal, definitely made it close to succeeding at this, but the group (also comprised of Baptists’ drummer Nick Yacyshyn and in-every-band bassist Brian Cook) seemed to figure that the path to stereo destruction required disquiet along with volume, and so the album ultimately missed the mark, with almost humorously vaguely ominous lyrics and a wandering structure that was interesting, but not always headbangin’.

The wandering is still somewhat present on What One Becomes, but so is a dialed up focus during those non-wandering moments, allowing for legitimate riffs and 10-minute tracks that feel (mostly) like songs, and not just stitched together blasts of guitar, bass, and drums. Turns still writes in a rather open-ended fashion – he always does; his poetry has effective imagery, but at the same time, it never feels very specific – however, his thoughts are, as with the songs, stretched beyond utterances of threatening words and into a slow flood of prose. There’s no real subject divide between the tracks, but it doesn’t matter: it gives his vocals a grinding passion that matches the music’s increased drive. And man is there drive. Yacyshyn is a goddamned superstar here; opener Image of Control should kill of any hesitations one might’ve had from The Deal, especially when roughed up by Kurt Ballou’s production.

…Many reviews mention the pauses in the intensity as widely spaced breathers, but they’re just a bit too sparse for my taste, and don’t feel like measured beats – that is, they don’t enhance the song for me, and often act as bridges to completely different sections that could be different tracks. I know we’re all about deconstructing the genre, but I’d be a fine with a straight-forward build-up-and-release flow, instead of this hiccupy pause and restart.

The balance between these elements made The Deal, overall, uneven; it’s definitely reigned in, in comparison, on What One Becomes, and the utter mess of goddamned noise and power the band generates otherwise is a grand enough selling point.