The greatest strength of Glasgow’s doom-meets-drone-meets-noise duo Ommadon is also their greatest weakness. Namely, their artistic devotion to relentlessly forceful, suffocating music, which can be quite a tough cookie to chew on for the uninitiated. Now at their fourth (sixth if counting demos) full-length release, Empathy for the Wicked, they stay true to their style, continuing where they left off with their previous outing V, and offering more deviously gorgeous sounds for the patient listener.
At times, Empathy for the Wicked‘s slow, barely perceivable build-ups, segments that oscillate between noise and drone, feedback hum, static, and crushing guitars can seem like a tour de force created to obliterate the spirits of its consumers. This kind of music, presented here in its purest state, offers no respite, no melodic hooks or rhythmic interludes designed for easy digestion. Instead, Ewan Mackenzie (drums, keyboard & noise) and David Tobin (guitars & noise) opt for an approach that challenges the listener and requires a hefty amount of dedication and a certain willingness to let go and to absorb the music rather than listen to it methodically and critically. It’s also an affair that rises from dark motifs and the deepest depths of the soul and translates into sounds that, like with Sunn O))), should be felt and not just heard. As if it can’t be understood completely without experiencing the physical impact of its twisted drones and doom rumblings.
The 45 minute long album is divided into two sections of roughly equal length that, while not “tracks” in the truest sense, each carry a distinct feel. The album flows from riff to riff, from abstract sound to abstract sound, and segmenting this into songs would’ve only hindered the process of self-exploration this music tries to catalyze. The first part of the record is the one that comes relatively close to the idea of “cutting to the chase”; after just a few minutes of screeches, noises and undulation between pure noise and drone, it transitions into a heavy hitting doom epic whilst producing an impressive wall of sound that cranks up and down through subtle tempo changes. This makes the first section stand out as quite dynamic and active in contrast with the second part which is devoted, for half of its duration, to a fuzzy, introspective noisy drone (or drony noise) that unfurls slowly, reminding in some ways of the ending of My Dying Bride’s “The Cry of Mankind.” This hypnotic movement is interrupted by a familiar riff that reemerges, becomes more and more prominent, until it finally transitions into a doomy, rolling rhythm.
Empathy for the Wicked is not an easy listen, but it’s rewarding in many ways. It’s overwhelming in its delivery, awash with a foreboding of impending doom and the possibility of everything just crumbling under its own weight. The perfect music for some screwed up form of meditation, perhaps. It’s somehow natural for the “technicalities” to be secondary when this genre is concerned, thus the production and mastering (by Billy Anderson) create a sound that is, as you might imagine, relatively lo-fi, filthy, and distorted. It primarily serves as a carrier of atmospheric cues, just as it should, with the only complaint being with the drums, that at certain points come off as weird and dull.
While Ommadon’s Empathy for the Wicked lacks the harmonies and psychedelic diversity that makes Ufomammut so engaging, or the layers and complexities that make Wolvserpent so seducing and evil-sounding, it still stands tall as one of this year’s better releases in the genre. For all of its grime and dirt, evil and madness bubbling under the surface, Empathy for the Wicked opens up spaces and dimensions, guiding the listener through infinite doors and journeys by standing completely still. Seasoned veterans of the doom/drone/noise scene should dive right in. As for everyone else, approach with care and a sense of awe and you just might be rewarded.