Old Man Gloom

BY Natalie Zina WalschotsPublished Jul 3, 2012

Old Man Gloom are a sludge/doom metal/post-metal super-group. Formed by Aaron Turner (Isis) and drummer Santos Montano (Zozobra) in 1999, the band now include Nate Newton (Converge) and Caleb Scofield (Cave In, Zozobra). No is their first album since 2004's Christmas and its release marks the continuation of a new productive period for Old Man Gloom, who just played several dates in the U.S., their first live performances in years, at the beginning of May. Instead of fanfare and triumph, however, Old Man Gloom have marked their return with flamethrowers and anthrax. No is a sick, angry album that allows itself the time to wallow, like an infection swelling under the skin until it must be lanced. This record stands against, denies, defies and negates. It strives to be the opposite of positivity, acknowledges and gives a voice to those moments when rejection and revulsion are the only response, when rebuilding is impossible and it's time to strip and scourge, give up and burn to the ground.

This is your first album since 2004's
Christmas. What was it about this particular cultural time, or personal and creative moment, that spurred you to make music again as Old Man Gloom?
Aaron: We actually recorded several hundred hours of music since the release of Christmas, though none of it was deemed fit for public consumption, and thus it remains locked in the archives of the Gloom Conservatory. It is not for a lack of quality that this music remains available for our internal use only ― quite the opposite, actually. It's just that this body of work is so advanced, both in terms of composition and the frequency ranges in which it was constructed, that we dare not test the fragile limits of the collective consciousness by unleashing it into the wider world. The document now recognized as No was our attempt to present these ideas in a more concise and easily understood form. Though it seems even with that goal in mind we may be allowing under-qualified individuals to come into contact with work that could undermine their psychic stability over periods of prolonged exposure. Still, it is a risk we must take considering the possible positive outcome to be gained by spreading our gifts of insight and knowledge over a broader spectrum.

Santos: While I appreciate Aaron's concern for the psychological effect our music can have on people, I think he underestimates the average Gloom student. I think that the problem is with us ― Old Man Gloom ― and our constant struggle to complete what we call our "cycles." A cycle can only be completed when all parties are unanimously sated, and that is a rarity. As individuals, we are complex, finicky, awful people, and while we never disagree, we rarely feel as though our message is complete and ready for mass consumption. While I wish I could blame the fragile listener, like Aaron, for their inability to allow us to reveal our full potential, I put the blame on us; we're just too thoughtful.

How comfortable are you with your identity as a "super-group"? Do you think this term is appropriately applied to your project?
Aaron: I think this sells us short, actually. "Ultra-group" might be more fitting, given our individual talents, not to mention the formidable unit we become when assembled under the great, gusting banner of Gloom. Has there ever been another conglomerate whose combined stature rivals or surpasses our own? If such a thing is possible it would be only in a parallel universe populated by deities and supreme beings.

Santos: Again, I have to take umbrage with my colleague. I think that he is correct in that no word coupled with "group" could adequately describe the talent involved with the Institute, but when combined, I feel we unfortunately deteriorate as individuals, losing our sparkling identities to the larger, faceless, moral-less, soulless mass. While it is a spectacle for the people who seek our undeniable truths, it takes its toll on us as individuals and our humanity suffers every time we are in the same room. Not to say it isn't a noble undertaking; it is ― maybe the most noble of all.

The title of the album, No, is monolithic and absolute. Does this reflect the sound you were trying to create with the album?
Aaron: Yes.
Santos: No.

Are you inspired, musically or lyrically, by other cultural artefacts? You've drawn on Hemingway in the past, for instance. Do you draw upon art/literature/other music in No? I am thinking of Dennis Lee's great book of poetry, No, which is similarly fragmented and apocalyptic.
Aaron: It is the existence and actions of Gloom that have influenced the likes of Hemingway, Lee and countless others who have fashioned their meagre thoughts into tangible forms barely adequate to be called art, not the other way around, as you suggest in your question. It is only the considerable egos of such "creators" that have prevented them from acknowledging the divine inspiration drawn from the endless and ageless wellspring of Gloom, a spring from which light and wisdom have rippled across the eons into the darkest corners of all consciousness. Though we have only come forth into wider recognition in recent years, we have always been here, and will continue to be, well beyond the finite existence of humanity.

Santos: I hate to keep being a naysayer, but once more, I feel Aaron has derailed a bit. I like to think of it less like Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure, as Aaron seems to, and more like a fine dining experience. Everything we do is like an equally important part of an inspired meal, and everything we experience externally, from any source, be it music, personal relationships, art or cable television, is like a garnish on the plate. We are most important in the world, but we need the funny little flare the rest of the world adds to appease the food critic.

Rather than simply post-metal, Old Man Gloom has always struck me as post-modern metal. Are you consciously trying to make post-modern art?
Aaron: Well, you're right about one thing and that is Old Man Gloom make art with a capital "A." We do not seek to merely entertain; we seek to enlighten those that encounter our work. Existence is a trying affair for all forms of life, but that burden may be lightened by the willingness to share and receive wisdom. Should such wisdom be given shape, in the form a well-crafted song or visual image, all the better. If crafted by those possessing a sharp mind, deft hand and virtuous soul, then that piece of work can serve as a portal from a mundane existence into a realm of spiritual expansion and intellectual stimulation. We aim to elevate our audience through the simple act of engaging with our creations, to allow them to experience the joyous totality of life in this process of engagement. It is not without challenge that we present this opportunity, for ours is difficult music, and the experience is a trial in and of itself.

Santos: It seems Aaron is experiencing difficulty in his existence and trying to bridge that into the Conglomerate's actions as a whole. From where I stand, and I'm authorized to speak for the other members of the group that aren't Aaron, we don't find existence trying at all. In fact, we're on cruise control at this point. Nate [Newton, guitar/vocals] is probably somewhere eating French fries and skateboarding right now, in fact ― not a hard life. I'm doing this interview on a Thursday afternoon. I suppose I should call Aaron and try to figure out what's going on with him. As far as the question, I feel we're entitled at this point to have a genre of metal named specifically for us; I'm fine with post-apothecary metal.

The electronic element of Old Man Gloom has always struck me as particularly organic, even to an unsettling and symbiotic degree. What is your goal with the electronic elements of your music?
Aaron: What you recognize as "electronics" is actually the sound of magic. Magic is a concept that is hard for most to grasp and perhaps even harder to explain, but one crucial aspect of it that can be illustrated has to do with perception. For magic to be recognized by the modern human, who in typical cases has become sceptical of the very existence of magic, it must appear as something recognizable, an ordinary, tangible form. This does not negate the impact the magic has on those that come into contact with it, though their level of sensitivity to it may have something to do with how deeply they are affected. For example, what you hear as electronics in the framework of our music is actually magic and its unsettling effect upon your soul speaks to your sensitivity to otherworldly elements. Though it may be unpleasant to acknowledge that you are susceptible to its effects, you are in fact lucky that your existence in this world hasn't completely dulled your extra-preceptory senses.

Santos: Okay, now I'm really worried. Magic? He's gone off the deep end. In the past, we had Luke to "take the edge off" of Aaron's "magic." They'd stay up late, take their "magic medicine," and in the morning we'd have what you call the electronic elements to our group. Well, no one can track Luke down, so now the inmate is running the asylum. We all do our best to add to the ambient tracks, but sometimes it's better to just let Aaron ride the snake to the airport, where he can board a zeppelin and chase the dragon down the rabbit hole, if you know what I mean.

No is your most textually complex record. How much of a priority was the layering and production?
Aaron: All aspects of our creations are important. That which is small is treated with the utmost care and deep concern. That which is large is handled with ease of mind and a relaxed spirit. What some would consider mere detail is of central importance for us. That's not to say that the basic compositions themselves are of little consequence, for those are the foundational blocks upon which everything else is constructed. But where we really excel is in the area of subtle tonal manipulation and textural fabrication. These elements are the ones that penetrate past the surface level of the listener's psyche to the very depths of the subconscious. This process of osmosis goes almost unnoticed by the listener, its nature being as subtle as it is, but the effects are long lasting and profound.

Santos: Well, finally we agree; I couldn't have said it better myself. I think it's important to note that as with our last record, Christmas, this was not all done quickly. It takes many months, many different rooms, many different cities and a lot of people saying, "Is he serious right now?" in control rooms from coast to coast to make an Old Man Gloom record. Nothing is an accident. Everything is a cog in the machine.

What are you saying "No" to? What is No rejecting?
Aaron: This monumental "no" is the cumulative response to a lifetime of saying "yes," when just the opposite should have been said instead. How many of us have said "yes" when we really meant "no"? How better served would our life's purpose have been had we spoken from a place of honesty rather than a place of fear, obligation or guilt in such instances? Beyond our personal sphere of existence there is a wider sense of permissiveness, of "yes-ness" that dominates our culture and our global society, to the detriment of our individual and collective wellbeing. We have bent to the destructive tendencies of patriarchal violence- and domination-based thinking for far too long. We have acquiesced to a life ruled by commerce and consumption, which has replaced human connection and community. We have traded spirituality for hollow religious corporations bent on ruling and manipulating rather than providing sustenance for our souls. What better response could there be to all this than a resounding and resolute mantra of "no"? What more positive statement could be made to reverse this tide of destructive capitulation? The "no" time has arrived and No is its hymn, a clarion call for those who are no longer willing to say "yes" to that which corrodes life, the mind, heart and soul.

Santos: Amen, brother.

Read a review of No here.

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