When the last Om album, “Pilgrimage”, came out, I made some kind of borderline lazy crack about it being virtually indistinguishable from its predecessor. Not much danger of being able to do that with “God Is Good”, this time.
The fundaments of Om’s sound remain intact: meditative progressions on bass and drums, floating somewhere between Slint and Black Sabbath, with Al Cisneros’ whispered invocations to some unitive Godhead nestled deep in the mix. But this time there’s a new drummer alongside Cisneros – Emil Amos, replacing Chris Haikus – and a sense that Om’s ongoing mission to create devotional music has encouraged them this time to expand on their hypnotic rudimentary sound.
It’s easy to draw parallels with the leap forward Sunn 0))) made on this year’s “Monoliths And Dimensions”, especially on “Alice”. The prospect of avant-metalheads channelling Alice Coltrane in their music is a strange, allbeit appealing, one, and it happens again here as “God Is Good” opens with “Thebes”, and a tamboura drone that has an uncanny similarity to the opening of Coltrane’s “Journey In Satchidananda”.
Soon enough, “Thebes” evolves into a more traditional Om song: whispered incantations up to the eight minute mark, followed by about 11 minutes of similarly dirge-like heavy sludge. It’s a trick which is still pretty impressive, but it’s given new dimensions by the discreet new textures which Cisneros and Amos incorporate into their sound: something akin to a cello tone early on mingling with the drones, and a distinct piano around the six minute mark when the drums also arrive.
“Meditation Is The Practice Of Death” initially seems less of a departure, and it’s at some point early in this second track that my tolerance for Cisneros’ somewhat po-faced, gothically portentous lyrics starts, as usual, to wane (it’s quite obvious why Om did a split with Current 93 a while back); I suspect I may be laughing at the wrong bits from time to time.
The music, though, remains superb. There’s evidence of Amos’ looser, more ornate drumming, a newly subtle and melodic guitar-like tone that fleetingly appears, and some distinct dub reverb on a couple of drum rolls. Then, as “Meditation Is The Practice Of Death” moves into its final phase, there’s a beautiful flute solo, of all things.
It acts as a precursor of sorts for the new vistas presented by the two parts of “Cremation Ghat”, both happily instrumental. “Cremation Ghat I” feels nebulously North African, and is faster and more urgent than Om and Sleep tradition, powered by clicking percussion and handclaps, with Amos virtually playing breaks and Cisneros essaying dry funk runs on his bass to create a different kind of trance from their normal opiated lurch.
“Cremation Ghat II” is better still, with the tamboura foregrounded this time and a rich sound which aligns Om to Indian-tinged psychedelia and cosmic jazz far more than to their post-metal contemporaries. Cisneros has always talked about this range of music – and his esoteric knowledge is blazingly evident from his lyrics. But it’s thrilling to hear it being expressed so gracefully and powerfully in the way his music sounds now.