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Pilgrimage - EP

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Album Review

After the collaborative EP Om — bassist Al Cisneros and drummer Chris Haikus — did with Current 93, with its rather bludgeoning sense of non-float space attack, "logic" perhaps dictates that Pilgrimage would follow that ragged pied piper into the ether. Not so. These four cuts offer four widely divergent takes on the bass, drum, sounds, and ambient space that this pair have made a trademark since the disbanding of the unholy stoner rock trio Sleep. These cuts, ranging from a little over four minutes to nearly twelve, may follow an instrumental formula, but the sheer amount of blissful and chaotic havoc they can wreak with the brain (especially at delightfully high volume) can't be boxed. While the title track that bookends the set (there is a shorter reprise of it at the end) is simply mantra-like in its long, slowly unwinding way that never leaves its center of gravity — because it has no center and hovers between heaven (of some kind) and earth — it's pure, spooky poetry. Cisneros' vocals are lower than his bass, which alternates around a four-note pattern with droning notes throughout its ten-and-a-half minute length. They are not entirely whispered, they are more like gently chanted. The lyrics are printed in the booklet, but they are thick, nearly impenetrable psychedelic reflections on the cosmos — literally. But the voices becomes another instrument in this mix, a single pulse, underscored and prodded by tom toms, tambourines, played out as a tribal beat, but even they don't overcome the droning bassline that takes on subsonic proportions near the middle of the cut, which, if listened to loud enough, can move your spine around inside your body.

"Unitive Knowledge of the Godhead" begins with a reverbed, distorted bassline that just picks up in intensity until the bell of the ride cymbal, a full drum kit, and full-on throb take over. It is disorienting at first, a shock, but its volume and electricity are welcome, and grab the listener in the belly, where you can feel that bass first (no low end "theory" here, just pure hum and strident pulse) and hold on for an all too brief ride. It turns out this was a primer to get one ready for the even heavier "Bhima's Theme" Engineered by Steve Albini (who did a disastrous job with Mike Watt's bass on the 2007 Stooges album), this is simply pummeling while being so utterly chant-like in its repetition it is like its own sonic accelerator kind of chant music. Forget the trance, this is more like mental wipe out.

After a few minutes of focusing on the interplay between cymbals, snares, bass drum, and effects-laden bass (which makes Black Sabbath's Geezer Butler sound like Air Supply) this nearly 123-minute jam overcomes all resistance because it just keeps coming and coming. Through headphones, the sound is so devastating it feels like the world just melts away into pure light. Formlessness and emptiness emerge out of the sonic whorl, and the notion of "oneness," achieved by the complete unity of Haikus' and Cisneros' unhurried assault on the senses, is more than remarkable; it feels like a force of nature itself. A little over halfway in, there is a softer, "bridge"-like section with all the distortion taken off the bass, and the drums cease playing. Cisneros is loud enough to be heard by but his singing is a chant, and the effect on the listener is one of simply caving in, opening to nothing and floating into it, being carried along by this deep, low, low, low plod. When the volume and drums return the effect is shattering and the mind just seems to leave the body entirely and project itself into the dark heart of the mix. When the title track re-emerges and offers even quieter vocals than before, it's all whisper, that bass ghost, dressed in hand percussion and tom tom wobble, is the "amen" segment: this Pilgrimage is over and you've arrived at your destination. Wherever that is, only the listener can know; but she's been carried there on wave upon wave of heavy, living, breathing nocturnal rock, one that merges Eastern and Western drone scales and harmonic overtone convergences throughout. Pilgrimage is the epitome — so far — of the below the cave sonic explorations led by Om. It's a head above Conference of the Birds and different from anything else out there right now. Tune in, lay down, and wig out.


Formed: 2003 in San Francisco, CA

Genre: Alternative

Years Active: '00s

The sparingly named Om reunites the oft-heralded Sleep rhythm section of Al Cisneros (bass, vocals) and Chris Haikus (drums); but this time, rather than producing monolithic stoner/doom metal, the duo is focused on a softer, if no less hypnotic brand of drone rock, partly infused with monastic and Tibetan chanting. Since reconnecting in 2004, the duo has released its epic sonic meditations in the shape of split EPs with the likes of Current 93 and...
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Pilgrimage - EP, Om
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