Sumac What One Becomes
Published Jun 08, 2016Striking while the iron is hot, Sumac are unleashing their sophomore album, What One Becomes, a little over a year after debut The Deal. The bull-headed pace and dense riffing remain, but the songs are augmented by a more visceral and disorienting take on the trio's bestial brand of metal. Here, Sumac have penned five expansive odes to our fragmented attempts at stabilizing personal identity that are equal parts confounding and cathartic.
The most immediate development is an almost complete abstention from traditional song structure. While the lack of verse-and-chorus has been a facet of the band's craft from the get-go, What One Becomes goes as far as defying expectations of musical flow, choosing instead to start and stop phrases with reckless abandon. Interspersed among the more stable, riff-based sections are abstract free-form passages of noise improvisation.
Insofar as the album is a rumination on selfhood as a constant barrage of thoughts, sensations and movements, the band's structural choices are apt, and mostly compelling. Despite the occasional cut-and-paste feel that accompanies such experimentation, the open-ended sections provide just enough rapture to justify the change in pace.
The musicians' playing retains the band's typically muscular vigour, but has taken on extra nuance. Layered over the meticulously constructed guitar chugs are noise-rock freak-outs ("Rigid Man") and Southern-tinged post-rock plodding ("Clutch of Oblivion"). These are welcome additions to Sumac's bag of tricks, despite the feeling that the band are still figuring out exactly how to tackle them. While the bass guitar's role remains primarily as rhythmic and tonal support, it now exploits melodic space in the expansive guitar chords, with great results ("Image of Control").
The drumming is once again a showcase of the technical ability required for handling pinpoint precision, and provides the anchor that allows the band to craft songs from seemingly amorphous masses of sound. The addition of a hi-hat tambourine to the setup adds refreshing timbre to various passages and highlights the nuances here.
With three capable musicians coalescing around an unremitting desire to push their craft to new extremes, we should look forward to Sumac getting better at taming their musical beast, all for the purpose of unleashing it with renewed force. (Thrill Jockey)