Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

Conference of the Birds

Released 2006 on Holy Mountain
Reviewed by kwd, 06/01/2010ce


At Giza (15:55)
Flight of the Eagle (17:27)

When Sleep shed the literal Sabbath-isms of Holy Mountain and truly came into Being on Dopesmoker (nee Jerusalem), they revealed more than a so-deep-it’s-molten devotion to the transcendental power of repetition - they revealed a canny knack for bending time itself. On paper, not much happens in Sleep’s final one-track statement: minor variations on a riff, stacks of same-chord bludgeon, scattered solos, spread over an hour and a bit and all at a seemingly sloth-like tempo. Yet somehow, that hour never ever drags. I don’t know why. Sloth is a misnomer because that shit’s a real eye opener, pointing out some sort of Way whether you want it or not, warping your perception as it does so... things ain’t as slow as you think you think.

Sleep’s rhythm keepers, bassist Al Cisneros and drummer Chris Hakius, create exactly the same time-distortion thing with Om. Sleep’s evolutionary end point is their beginning, a beginning which frees them to go for the cosmic jugular with long, meditative excursions laced with heavy reps. Dopesmoker is Om’s template, but with one massive difference:

no guitars.

Yep, the band that made one of THE most definitive, uncompromising Heavy Rock statements of all time has birthed a duo who don’t even put guitars on their records. The question is, does it matter? Not a bit, because this band's on a trajectory all of its own and that means it demands to be judged on new terms. There’s still a ton of weight in the records, but the difference is more in the way we listen - the lack of axe, the arch metal instrument, compels us to drop any preconceptions about what Om/ex-Sleep should sound like... stoner/drone/doom-lite, none of it makes sense. Om aren't metal and they're barely even rock, certainly not at the surface, but with Hakius’s tumbling rhythms and Cisneros’s propulsive distorto bass thickness, they definitely flow. Om’s musical currency is mOmentum, pure and simple.

Atop that glutinous drum ‘n bass brew, our Al’s cleaned-up vocals give the band their third defining element. Now even more of a monotone than it was on Dopesmoker, his voice just sort of hangs there, a soft human drone levelling out any musical peaks and dips underneath. Crucially, however, this emotional void – in delivery, not literal content – is precisely what makes Om Om. That detachment accentuates the music’s repetition, brings a mantra-like calm to the tracks and threads a Constant through every track… whether achieved through design, vocal limitation, or both, his style works as an effect and brings a mesmeric calm to the records.

With such a resolute sense of self and purpose, it’s no surprise that Conference of the Birds offers no real variation on Variations on a Theme. It has two tracks, both around the 16-18-minute mark, but if there’s one argument for picking up a record that’s basically the debut continued, it’s in these two words: At Giza.

Lean, clean and taut, and maybe even a tad delicate for the hardheaded Sleep/Om devotee, side 1’s At Giza is undisputed evidence of Om’s evolution.

Floydian in its Set the Controls galactic ambience, dramatic in its pace and tension, Giza is quiet and spacious and, dareisay, nimble – unlike the ultra evenflow of other Om tracks, this track actually builds to something. After slowing to a stalker’s near-silence at the halfway point, quiet drums emerge - the warmest, closest drums you ever heard - and the colossal surge-to-climax is an all but inevitable knockout.

Side 2’s Flight of the Eagle is almost Sleep-heavy by comparison, a dense-from-the-off work of low end bass action that trundles Omward with glue on its wheels, true to the debut's spirit.

Where Om go now on album #4 with Hakius departed, I’ve yet to discover, but there’s no mistaking the hypnotic pull of Conference of the Birds - put it on heavy rotation and let it sink …IN. Deep. And for the full Unsung treatment, see the Archdrude’s Album of the Month review of their debut from 2005.

Reviews Index