Some release weeks are just slow. I try to find something to get amped about every week, but this time I just couldn’t do it. Last week, by contrast, was a pretty busy one. DIIV, R. Kelly, and eventual winner Ty Segall all released seriously strong albums, albums that had pretty much nothing in common aesthetically, and some stuff was bound to fly under the radar. And this week, since I couldn’t pick anything from today’s schedule, I’ve grabbed one of last week’s under-the-radar releases, and it also happens to be an album that I’d been excited to hear for quite some time.
Old Man Gloom is a sort of underground-metal/hardcore supergroup. Former Isis frontman Aaron Turner leads it, and it also has members from other great Boston bands like Converge and Cave-In. The project has been around for a long time, but they haven’t put out an album together since 2004’s Christmas, an album that was a pretty big deal to me. Christmas came out in the moment after Mastodon’s earthshaking Leviathan, when I suddenly realized that I should probably start paying attention to underground metal. I bought it on the recommendation of another critic and played it constantly, over and over, at my cubicle desk for a few months. Christmas had long stretches of stratchily ambient hums that would suddenly erupt into a demon-trudge riff or a hellbeast roar — the natural conclusion of the Mogwai/Godspeed You! Black Emperor quiet-to-loud style — and it got me every time. It seemed like the heaviest thing I’d ever heard. And then the band just went away.
I should take a moment here for Aaron Turner. With Isis, Turner led one of the most important metal bands of the past decade or two. Their stretched-out, shoegazey crunch inspired scores of (mostly shitty) bands, and it helped carve out an adventurous, even melodic wing in an underground that can sometimes trend insular. For the most part, though, I could not bring myself to care about them. With some exceptions, Isis’s patient, drawn-out tracks didn’t have the urgency or ferocity that I tend to crave in metal; by the time they locked into their climactic juddering marches, my attention usually wandered. I have a friend who claims that he once fell asleep at an Isis show, and I can see it. But ever since the band broke up a few years ago, Turner has been messing around with a ton of different projects, and some of them have been totally rewarding. This year, Turner has released two albums with two different bands. His jackhammering crustpunk crew Split Cranium dropped a frag-grenade of a self-titled album that might be my favorite thing Turner’s ever done. And now he’s also gotten back together with Old Man Gloom to give us NO, an album of bruising and insistent doom that’s just as heavy as I remember Christmas being.
Converge’s Kurt Ballou, probably the best and certainly the most influential metal producer currently working, helmed NO, and it’s got his fingerprints all over it. Ballou productions tend to have sputtering, decaying guitar sounds that somehow layer up into something grand and cinematic, which means his stuff can sound rudimentary and majestic at the same time. And Old Man Gloom always came off like druids at a crustpunk squat, so they’re a great fit for him. A lot of the songs on NO are long as hell; the closer “Shuddering Earth” stretches out to 14 minutes. And that mostly means that the construction of Christmas has changed; they’re not moving from ambient fuzz to all-out attack within songs, rather than alternating from one to the next. And when they keep things concise, as on the elemental stomp “To Carry The Flame,” they’re just stunning.
NO has a lot of aesthetic variation; they go full-on acoustic-campfire ominous-burn on penultimate track “Crescent.” But it’s hard to pick out individual moments from the album. Instead, it all works out as one sustained mood-piece; 56 straight minutes of epic antipathy, a dirtily grand extended seethe. It would be a damn shame to miss out on this one.
No is out now on Hydra Head. Stream it below.
Albums of note out this week:
• Belle And Sebastian member Stevie Jackson’s excellently titled solo turn (I Can’t Get No) Stevie Jackson.
• Mobb Deep rapper Prodigy’s new solo album H.N.I.C. 3.
• Glitchy, starry-eyed Icelandic band múm’s new album Early Birds.