One of my favorite things about metal is just how small of a world it can be. Like all metalheads out there, I have my favorite bands and musicians. Many of these musicians have a tendency to venture out into new projects and/or genres and I stalk them from band to band and genre to genre. From there, I find even more musicians I like that have even more projects and before I know it, I’m desperately trying to keep up with all the bands, members, genres, etc. Within all of that confusion, you’ll find projects that are great and others that leave much to be desired but, in the end, you’ll continue to explore and find more bands and musicians to like. In this case, Sumac actually found me.
I picked up their debut promo while waiting for the new Leviathan to drop and (like a competition to connect every actor to Kevin Bacon) I discovered that the Sumac founder is none other than Aaron Turner. Most know him from split-up Isis fame but he’s also an ex-Twilight collaborator alongside Wrest (Leviathan). Small world indeed. The Wrest-Turner comparison aside, let’s see what this ex-Isis-ian has been dabbling in recently. [Readers note: Just so we are clear before we begin; if you came here thinking you would get tips on cooking with sumac spice, you should probably stop reading now.]
Turner made some wise choices for Sumac band members with Baptists drummer Nick Yacyshyn and Russian Circles/Botch bassist Brian Cook. Not a bad selection of musicians for this technical, droning, post-metal beast that opens with an ambient, instrumental drive deep into the dark microcosm of The Deal via “Spectral Gold.” Upon its close, we are immediately subjected to the painfully slow build and sustaining piano chords of “Thorn in the Lion’s Paw.” This track sets the tone of The Deal with heaviness and aggression that lingers between the heaviest of Isis, The Ocean, Mastodon, and a hint of Gojira in “Hollow King.” The crushing heaviness is further reinforced by the deathy shrieks of Turner and the roller-coaster ride of slow and mid-paced transitions that stop, start, build, and die. And to wrap it all up, “Thorn in the Lion’s Paw” closes with Mamiffer-like ambience full of dark sustains, feedback, and more piano.
Songs continue to grow in length from here on and the songwriting only slightly deviates from the established formula. “Blight’s End Angel” and “Hollow King” clock in at nearly ten and twelve minutes respectively, while “The Deal” approaches fourteen minutes. While good, the latter lingers longer than it should as it alternates from mid-paced to drone, and quiets down to some Cobalt-esque harmonic plucking before building back to devastating chugs. Progression and builds are the name of the game here as each riff builds off itself and steamrolls through you in a climatic way. Examples include the final result of thirteen minutes of assault on “The Deal” and the repetitious outro of “Hollow King” that reminds me of the closing minutes of Tool’s “Third Eye.”
Discounting the intro and outro, only four of the six tracks have real substance. However, instrumental closer “The Radiance of Being” is a stripped down ditty that has a calming effect after the pummeling caused by The Deal, and is one of my favorites. At over 53 minutes, there really isn’t any shortage of music, even with the shorter bookend tracks and the trimming that songs like “The Deal” could have used. Many will find the production and compression fitting for the style but the opener throws off the DR rating with its individual score of 11. The other tracks actually come in at DR 5-6, so this album is quite loud. This is in no way a deal breaker for me, as the performances feel inspired and spontaneous, and Yacyshyn’s performance is fucking spectacular.
So, if you are looking for some back-to-roots Aaron Turner, be sure to pick up The Deal. Or if you’re unfamiliar with some of the musicians mentioned in this review, check this out and maybe you’ll find a new favorite musician that will guide you to a world of projects and genres that you might not otherwise have discovered.