Al Cisneros is declaring an end to the term "stoner rock." For starters, the singer/bassist of San Francisco's Om claims most bands in the indie metal underground aren't really stoners at all. Users, yes, but not stoners. "It's a lot of alcohol. It's a lot of cocaine," he sneers. "I mean, most of those people take two pipe hits, and they get really scared and paranoid. So it's really weird."
Cisneros speaks candidly. It contrasts with the enigmatic math of Om's music, which imagines Sisyphus forever pushing his boulder up the hill. Om really aren't stoner rock either—they're stone rock, carefully absorbing Buddhist chants, meditative rhythms, and mazes of anthills in their trek. The boulder always gets away from them, crushing their subtleties in a landslide of distortion. But, like Sisyphus, they're committed to pushing again toward the hilltop, ever so slowly. For Cisneros and drummer Chris Hakius, who also played together in Sleep and Asbestosdeath, this quest often materializes in unusual shapes, like full-length albums made from only a few songs. One such full-length, Sleep's Dopesmoker, was envisioned as just one track (though London Records would release a six-track version against the band's wishes). Om's new album, the four-song Pilgrimage (Southern Lord), is the duo's bulkiest offering in years. "To have four songs," Cisneros says, "that's actually a lot."
Last June, the band recorded for the first time with renowned audio engineer Steve Albini at Electrical Audio in Chicago. Albini—known to democratize rhythm sections with rare Russian microphones—was an obvious choice for the guitar-absent band. His touch brings out added texture. Where Om's last full-length, Conference of the Birds, leaned heavily on the gritty side of the band's soft/loud marriage, Pilgrimage showcases their organic frailty. Voice is an equal instrument to the drums. Bass is confidently dry as a bone. The title track's hushed, prayerful reprise in the album's closing minutes is particularly supreme. "It's a very sovereign experience at that point," Cisneros accurately suggests.