Let’s dispense the obvious. SUMAC was formed in 2014 by Brian Cook (bass), Aaron Turner (guitar, vocals), and Nick Yacyshyn (drums), three individuals who have each left a profound mark on the face of metal over the past ten-plus years. The fact they came together for a project should have ripped an obscene hole in time and space several years ago.
Sonically known for their blisteringly progressive combination of sludge and post-metal, SUMAC combine this sensory assault with a deep dive into psychological and philosophical concepts. That said, in most of their releases this foundational element is more allegorical, or allusive, rather than appearing front and centre. Certainly an argument could be made that their most recent offerings with Keiji Haino offer a more direct grappling with the human condition, but even the immensity of those powerful releases pales in comparison to the overwhelming reality of their 2016 LP, What One Becomes.
The album opens with the frenetic ‘Image Of Control’, which begins with a cacophonous roar into a solo guitar line with a largely monophonic texture. The way the line flows forth before gaining some sense of solidarity rhythmically is quite enchanting, almost as if intoning the pulverising ensemble entrance that follows. The relentless wave that roars forth is massive. This soul crushing presence coupled with harrowingly exposed writing set the tone surrounding the frenetic inner workings of the human mind under the weight of existence. The message in ‘Rigid Man’ continues the bleakness, exuding imagery of the guilt ridden paralysis one confronts anxiety and depression – “rigid man with soiled hands / cannot touch / cannot feel.”
One becomes caught in the ‘Clutch Of Oblivion’ all too easily. The lulling waves of the groove set-up by the trio are hypnotic, but the peaceful state of mind is jarring smashed like mirror being repeatedly punch in the bathroom. Blood dripping from the fingers and shattered glass. We are the ones caught in the tumultuous descent into trauma. The mind reeling in rhythmic chaos, and exhausted from the pummelling, it descends into a ‘Blackout.’ Inside one’s skull it becomes an echo chamber for monotony and pain. SUMAC’s minimalist and dissonant approach hammer home this feeling of being lost in a dark abyss.
What One Becomes is a masterful offering in both its musical construction, and messages of the human condition. Within the past decade there have been few albums that truly capture what goes on inside a mind that is ailing. What it means “to become” as a human based on experiences, and cause/effect. SUMAC give one thing that cements this album amongst the greats of the decade. They give hope even amidst the chaos in both the tangible world and in the mind, reminding us that “all that’s needed to claim the light / is the will to reach.”
Words by Garrett A. Tanner