Like much of the music Al Cisneros has produced throughout his career, the evolution of Om has been a slowly unfolding thing. The duo, originally consisting of Cisneros on bass/vocals and fellow ex-Sleep member Chris Haikus, initially took the aesthetic of their former band’s swan song opus Dopesmoker, and simply elevated the content and goals. These early dispatches were obscenely heavy slabs of doom, delivered in hypnotizing loops, topped with Cisneros’ mantra-like incantations that invoked countless religious symbols and icons. All of it remained compelling, but around the time of 2007’s Pilgrimage, things began to get a little predictable. You could count on Cisneros to stomp on the fuzz and distortion pedals for about half of the album, while engaging in (admittedly great) quiet bass noodling for the other half. Haikus left in 2008, allowing Emil Amos (also of Grails) to take the drum throne.
Advaitic Songs is Om 2.0’s second full-length album, and it is far and away the most entrancing document the band has released. Somewhere along the way, Cisneros discovered how to hypnotize the listener through compositional sophistication as opposed to sheer sonic force, to engage the senses instead of overloading them. 2009’s God Is Good toyed with this idea, but Advaitic Songs is where Om truly commits to their new approach, and where they truly hit the mark. The album is stretched into one large arc over the course of five songs. Female incantations carry gentle opener “Addis,” which then explodes into the violently stomping “State Of Non-Return.” It is at this point that the importance of Grayceon member Jackie Perez Gretz’s cello work becomes very apparent. While Cisneros’ bass works itself into a rabid froth, Gretz’ cello lays down the melody for the rest of the song’s duration. The rest of the album is then spent basking in the fading embers kicked up by “State of Non-Return,” with Gretz’ cello and Cisneros’ bass engaging in a melodic dance of death, only occasionally locking into unison (as they do towards the end of “Gethsemane”). A sustained high pitch rings out over “Sinai,” predicting a buildup that doesn’t culminate in bombastic noise, but in the earwormy chanting and cello of closer “Haqq al-Yaqin.”
The title Advaitic Songs refers to a school of Hindu philosophy that emphasizes the pursuit of knowledge of the self and the whole. Appropriately enough, this is the album where Om’s musical pursuit of such things has reached its goal. That it connects on such a purely visceral level only sweetens the journey’s end.