Sumac: What One Becomes (Thrill Jockey)

US heavy rockers return with stunning, game changing second album

Released Jun 10th, 2016 via Thrill Jockey / By Erick Mertz
Sumac: What One Becomes (Thrill Jockey) As Aaron Turner steps onto the stage accompanied by a low pulse of industrial noise, he is every bit the figure of Rasputin. There is an air of madness in the wiry beard draped across his chest, conveyed in the intense manner in which he blithely regards the audience as he picks up his guitar, sneers and prepares an auditory assault.

When Sumac formed in 2014, they broke out of obscurity with The Deal a robust, fifty-three minute album built around a rich conceptual backbone. The album was well received in the metal community, critically acclaimed outside of it. Turner has always brought a characteristic edge to his work and this outfit promised much of the same.

The band’s follow up, What One Becomes is everything great contained in their debut, only turned up a notch. Built around the intoxicating concept of how we as humans become endlessly trapped in a cycle questions around our own identity, Turner crafts a unique brand of post metal sludge that is deep enough to turn a curious ear as well as slam heads. Opening with the ten minute, Image of Control an absolute thundercloud of disorienting, brutal guitars, Turner allows his guttural wail to shift into something distant, the mad monk’s plea, only more abstracted. When the entire track feels as though it’s teetering on the brink of collapse, the album shifts into Rigid Man (the album’s debut single) a song that digs down into some spacious blues laced guitar that gradually growls into a spectacular finish. There is the pattern that becomes evident on What One Becomes, ebbs and flows, a red tide that’s in constant movement.

If Turner fills the role of a crazed mystic on lead guitar then it is the vigorous drumbeats from Nick Yacyshyn that musters up his war signal. The percussion sounds on What One Becomes pop like staccato shotgun blasts, punching through above the mix. They’re clean and precise, a welcome change from grey, inaudible rumbles that are built solely around a preoccupation with speed. At a glance, Sumac may feel like a fit of blind rage, but listen deeply and you’ll find that these are well-crafted songs with earned moments of mania and nary a wasted movement. Listen once through the epic Blackness which at seventeen minutes in length, is the longest on the album, and it becomes clear. No one else writes ambitious, challenging stuff like this.

Turner sidekick Kurt Ballou has once again successfully produced an album that magnifies its overall concept. As What One Becomes rises head and shoulders above its contemporaries with nuanced sounds that rise from a mix of extreme darkness, the core idea of individuation and connection to self resonates prominently. If you only indulge in only one heavy album this year then let this be the one.