Only a year has passed since Sumac made their groundbreakingly heavy debut and now they’re back to show you What One Becomes.
A moderate number of people, me included, were absolutely stoked when the news came out that Aaron Turner (ex-Isis, Old Man Gloom, Mamiffer), Brian Cook (Russian Circles) and Nick Yacyshyn (ex-Baptists) joined forces to debut as a sludge and post-metal supergroup in 2015 under the name Sumac. Needless to say, I really enjoyed The Deal and it actually made my Top 4 of 2015. I was similarly excited when I found out that Sumac would put out their sophomore record only a year later in 2016. Their new album is titled What One Becomes and the trailers and the promo single Rigid Man already confirmed that the album would be every bit as heavy as its predecessor.
Something I noticed before I even listened to the album for the first time was that Sumac did not stick to the same album structure this time. The Deal had short atmospheric guitar pieces at the beginning and end of the album to lead the listener into and out of the experience. What One Becomes, however, is a bundle of five tracks that largely clock in at about ten minutes, with the big outlier Blackout even going well in the 18-minute mark and even though it might seem like this album is longer than The Deal, the song-lengths are just not as varied and the record as a whole is only about five minutes longer than Sumac’s debut.
As for the sound of this album, I have to say that the band mostly stayed within the style of music they come out with, but made small adjustments that ended up affecting the end-product quite significantly. I can’t say that I was instantly taken with what I heard since a lot of what made The Deal so impressive to me ended up getting replaced or toned down on this record. The noise influences and atmospheric sections are still around and I feel like there are more and longer atmospheric parts this time around, which isn’t surprising, knowing that this is an Aaron Turner project after all. The climaxes on this album are still incredibly heavy as well and the powerful releases also still carry some real weight with them, but the crux is exactly that: Only the releases and climaxes, which there are less of on What One Becomes. They’re also placed quite predictably too.
The songs on this album generally seem to follow a quite strict pattern and they are much more stripped down in terms of complexity and instrumentation in general. The band often syncs up to amplify the weight of each kick and chord and while that does work out, it also leads to less going on, musically. The tracks on What One Becomes are less dynamic and often a lot more low-key. The intensity is on a bit of an on/off switch this time around.
Overall, Sumac’s sound on this album is of a skeletal and primal nature. Nick Yacyshyn’s drumming is a lot more minimalistic and the furious drumrolls and -fills that I loved about The Deal are mostly gone. Turner likes to develop single riffs over a long period of time and stretches out the atmospheric sections a little more than he did before. His caveman-style shouts are deeper this time around and fit the tone of the album quite well. Cook’s bass playing, though it is more present overall, doesn’t stand out the way it did on their debut. The sound of the bass on this album is great, though. The strings sound kind of lose and heavy and have a really nice buzz to them.
All of that might make it sound like this album doesn’t end up in my favor, but despite all the things it doesn’t have for me “on paper”, I still found myself unable to put this record down for quite a while. The songs, despite their length and comparative simplicity, feel really short, just like they did on The Deal. Every song also climaxes beautifully, with the band turning up the intensity and heaviness, much like they did on their debut and the album actually reaches some unreal amounts of force on the last two tracks, Blackout and Will to Reach. As the longest piece on this album, Blackout reaches its highest point about halfway through as it trudges on slowly before a short build that leads into a nimble rock section featuring that style of quickly winding guitar-riffs that Turner already liked to utilize on The Deal. After that the song goes into a very long outro, that could’ve been a bit shorter for my taste. Will to Reach marks the last stop on this tour and is actually the shortest track on this album. The band is already going at high voltage quite early on in the song and actually sounds quite triumphant in parts before the very “slow and low”, long second quarter of the song kicks in. Just past the halfway point of the song the band implements an atmospheric section that develops a slight doom-metal feeling later on and leads into the most impactful and overwhelming climax of the entire album. The band alternates between heavy assaults by the guitars and absolutely furious flurries of drumrolls and heavily stomping rhythms before cutting everything of with a short and noisy guitar section.
What One Becomes really managed to turn me around without me even noticing and while I would still say that this is a bit weaker of an album than their debut, Sumac managed to put out another really good post metal record with experimental bits here and there and an interesting mix of influences.