Many moons ago, the incredible Stoner/Doom act SLEEP sadly decided to call it quits. After releasing the little known “Volume One,” the cult classic “Holy Mountain,” and the hour-long marijuana hymn “Jerusalem/Dopesmoker,” troubles overwhelmed the band and guitarist Matt Pike, drummer Chris Hakius and bassist/vocalist Al Cisneros all went their separate ways. Matt Pike went on to form the acclaimed HIGH ON FIRE, shedding some of the Doomy vibe and trading it in for a more MOTORHEAD-gone-Stoner sound. The years went by, seeing three HIGH ON FIRE releases, but I always wondered what happened to good old Chris Hakius and Al Cisneros. Now that I have this album, I know the answer…and I am happy.
HIGH ON FIRE has some competition. The two fellows got back together and, well, it looks like they figured that they didn’t need a guitarist. Nope, no guitar here, but Chris and Al prove that you don’t need a six-string to make some awesome Metal. Stripped down to the max, OM consists of distorted and chunky bass riffs over top of pounding, tribal drums, topped over with mellowed-out, mantra-style vocals. The songs are all quite lengthy, with opener “On The Mountain At Dawn” clocking in at over 21 minutes and the other two tracks nearing 12 minutes each.
Musically, this is somewhere between SLEEP’s “Holy Mountain” and “Dopesmoker” eras. The groovy, head-nodding, mellowed-out-yet-rocking-out vibe from “Holy Mountain” is present, as is the droning dirge-like quality that made “Dopesmoker” so wonderful. Don’t expect a lot of variety here – the album lives up to the name “Variations On A Theme” by sticking to a rather strict formula and only tweaking it slightly in each song. Really, it’s pretty difficult to tell the songs apart, causing them to all blend into what seems like a 45 minute drone-fest. “Dopesmoker” part two? Close, but not nearly enough weed references.
I would definitely recommend this album for fans of bands like SLEEP, THE MELVINS, EARTH and SUNN0))), though fans of more traditional and structured Metal might be a little turned off. This album lacks embellishment but makes up for it with an awesome meditative quality. After listening to “Variations On A Theme,” I must say that I am quite excited to see what the future holds for OM. This record feels like the band is jamming and getting their feet wet and I can only imagine what will happen once they perfect their sound. Hey, if this catches on and OM becomes the next big thing, the next decade might even usher in a new era of guitar-less Metal.
Eh, not likely, but definitely check this one out anyway. (Online June 14, 2005)