With a collective résumé of Isis (the band), Old Man Gloom, Baptists, Botch, and Russian Circles, it would be understandable if Sumac never emerged from the shadow of its members’ past achievements. But the band transcends its supergroup status with What One Becomes. Sumac’s first LP, The Deal, is an angular mindfuck, though it also bleeds outside the lines—a bit too much. What One Becomes harnesses the same elements and forges them into a unified planet of molten lead.
Noisy escarpments open “Image Of Control.” Underneath, Aaron Turner howls like a delirious mountain man. After three minutes of abstract chaos, the guitarist plays a series of delicate high notes, but only to decimate that beauty with an oddly timed mudslide. Drummer Nick Yacyshyn finds that rare balance between heaviness and technical dexterity, leaning back against the beat while also executing adroit fills. Much like Troy Sanders of Mastodon, Brian Cook is a crux, brilliantly emphasizing Yacyshyn’s chaotic drumming and Turner’s guitar work—often with the notes he chooses not to play. “Image Of Control” climaxes in jagged, Meshuggah-style stutter steps, a section that’s intensified by an avalanche of Yacyshyn’s polyrhythmic rolls.
First single “Rigid Man” is a straitjacket of cruelty that disintegrates before developing into a cataclysm of math metal. “Clutch Of Oblivion” pays homage to the countrified drone of Earth and then unleashes a chemical spill of sludge in the vein of early Isis. But, clocking in at over 17 minutes, “Blackout” is the centerpiece of What One Becomes. Kurt Ballou, who can seemingly do no wrong as musician or producer, recorded Yacyshyn’s drums in an empty church, and the result is devastating. The tom hits that start “Blackout” reverberate like boulders somersaulting down the Grand Canyon. When Turner and Cook join, Sumac induces seismic tremors. Following over 11 minutes of dense and alienating riffage, the band traverses into droning rock, injecting mercuric changes into the uptempo drive of Earth’s Living In The Gleam Of An Unsheathed Sword. The LP then closes with the labyrinthine hopelessness of “The Will To Reach.”
Botch and Isis remapped the worlds of hardcore and metal. What One Becomes shows Cook and Turner again occupying highly coveted space on the zenith of aggressive music—this time alongside Yacyshyn, the percussive mastermind. It’s hard to imagine a better metal record coming out this year.