OM has always been a band for adherence to rules and tradition. Originally formed by the rhythm section of Stoner gods Sleep (although original drummer Chris Hakius has since been replaced by Grails tubthumper Emil Amos) they appeared to stick to a strict policy of relying solely on drums and bass to provide their hypnotic groove. Rules are made to be broken of course and Advaitic Songs finds the band rewriting their scripture considerably to include a wider array of instrumentation. As much as this is a break from tradition, it doesn’t actually change OM’s driving force in the slightest. The band is still striving to create albums that provide the means to achieve a kind of transcendental heightening of the senses.
As might be expected from a band that played a four hour set in Jerusalem, titled an album God Is Good, and takes their name from the sacred Hindu incantation, there is a considerable religious overtone that flows throughout Advaitic Songs. The song titles themselves refer to elements of Creation theory and the story of Adam and Eve, the garden of Gethsemane, and the handing down of the 10 commandments whilst Biblical references (Ezekiel’s wheel for example) pepper the lyrics. To connect all the dots and marry those to Al Cisneros’ oblique lyrics would no doubt provide plenty of material on which to mediate upon the nature and mythology of religion itself; to say that there’s depth here would be a considerable understatement.
Musically, Advaitic Songs is a well crafted mix of West meets East (and everything in between). Unusually for an OM album bass and drums are not the be all and end all; instead, they provide the bedrock for tablas. strings, woodwind and chanted vocals. This approach gives OM an aesthetic that delves into history and tradition and allows them to mix Eastern religious signifiers with those more familiar in the Western world. If there’s a point to the album, it is perhaps that, no matter what faith or spiritual beliefs people happen to hold, the ethos and goals are essentially the same; enlightenment and spiritual peace.
Such inclusivity is in evidence throughout as Cisneros’ basslines both lay the foundations for the songs and twist effortlessly around the new instrumentation before becoming one. Some things never change however and the eternal truth of OM is that the riff is always the key to enlightenment. Sinai for example might possess an intro of Arabic chants, gorgeous sorrowful cello and what appears to be haunting electronics, but it’s the relentless bass riff and scattering drums that provide the groove to get lost in. Haqq-Al-Yaqim is perhaps the finest moment of the album. A relentless cosmic tract, its central motif provided by resonant strings whilst tablas and chants lay down a hypnotic groove. Cisneros, lost in the mix pitches an almost ominous vocal concerning inner-light, spiritual awakening and sainthood. The final chord sequence and guitar duet breaks away from the status quo to find new space. In doing so it suggests a new state has been achieved, whilst coincidentally providing one of the most beautiful moments on the album.
There are of course hints of the OM of old. State Of No Return keeps to the familiar rock rumble of bass and drums found on earlier albums, whilst the swelling drones and scampering beats of Gethsemane give things a distinctly darker tone. Yet despite all the mysticism, religion, tradition and history tied up in Advaitic Songs, this is a surprisingly accessible album, and one that finds OM at their best. It’s maybe slightly different to their previous work, but this shouldn’t be cause for concern; even the word of God has been edited once or twice over the years.