“Guess what, assholes,” began a Facebook post from the sporadic metal supergroup Old Man Gloom in early November, five days before the release of what was presumed to be their sixth record. “The Ape Of God is two entirely different albums. If you downloaded some leaked shit, you don’t have either.”
Working in cahoots with their new label, Profound Lore Records, Old Man Gloom had circulated an eight-track, 46-minute promotional download called The Ape of God, portraying it as their second release since ending an eight-year hiatus two years earlier. Reviews appeared, followed, as the band predicted, by back-channel leaks. That’s when Old Man Gloom announced that the version many might have swiped was a carefully edited combination of two albums sharing one name. The bait had been stripped of essential interludes and lengthier pieces. Both records, the band said, would arrive on their proper release date. “The interweb has sucked all the fun out of releasing records and we wanted people to be fucking surprised by something again,” Aaron Turner subsequently told The Quietus. “At least we tried.”
In one rather isolated online corner, a flood of vitriol, kudos, and schadenfreude began. Some fans praised the ruse’s ingenious simplicity. Others called Old Man Gloom “douchebags,” “fascist pricks,” and “clowns,” or pointed out that bogus promos meant to hoodwink critics and pirates weren’t as novel as the band might have hoped. Reviewers who had already invested time in the album’s early edition complained, somewhat legitimately, that they’d been cheated of their time while trying to do their jobs—that is, many suffered for the sins of a few. But the duplicitous release should have come as, at worst, only a slight shock; after all, what have Old Man Gloom done for the last 15 years but try to troll would-be fans? From the way they delivered The Ape of God to the fastidious and belligerent mess the dual albums themselves deliver, these 12 tracks are the most perfectly provocative Old Man Gloom have ever been.
When they’ve existed at all, Old Man Gloom have thrived in a state of concrete fluidity. Each of their albums has been its own gyre of heavy elements, tumbling d-beat and doom, harsh noise and hardcore, stoner rock and psychedelic rock into exuberant if sometimes uneven anti-patterns. A mix of audacity and devil-may-care enthusiasm powered their earlier records; during the first three tracks of 2004’s Christmas, for instance, they moved from a near-collage of Neurosis and Pink Floyd to a grindcore outburst to an alien instrumental reverie that suggested a punk rocker’s take on the early tape works of Gordon Mumma. Somehow, it worked. It’s as if the parents of the members—Turner, Converge’s Nate Newton, Cave In’s Caleb Scofield, versatile drummer Santos Mantano—told the kids they could be anything they wanted to be when they grew up, and that the quartet continues to hold that assurance as safe as scripture. Old Man Gloom’s boastful inability to make up their collective mind about what kind of band they are makes them incredibly divisive. They are either adored or reviled. That seems to be the way they prefer it, anyway.
The Ape of God thrills with that indecision, amplifying it through two albums that act as clashing, fraternal twins. The first set is the most streamlined Old Man Gloom effort to date, as the band moves through eight songs in 43 minutes. Hardcore bruiser “Fist of Fury” is aggression couched in antiphony, with the band bounding into straightforward pounce only to stop in perfect time for screams barked over beds of near-silence. “Never Enter” delivers the kind of jubilant, anthemic agitation that served as Fucked Up’s early calling card, while opener “Eden’s Gates” peaks in a fists-up, sludge-metal sing-along that seems to have crept north from the same bayou as Eyehategod or Down. But even the straightest bits here are demented and warped. That pummel of “Fist of Fury” arrives over an organ-and-guitar drone that only grows louder. And the two minutes of radical, mean post-punk that form the core of “The Lash” follow nearly five minutes of full-band improvisation, where Old Man Gloom seem to be fighting the symptoms of dying equipment. Its din emerges from the end of “Simia Die”, a wordless anthem that condenses the power and poignancy of post-metal into a tune that takes a third of the time Pelican or Turner’s old Isis would need to reach such heights. They do that by suspending the motion of a burly riff, walloping beat and celestial choir until one definitive, romantic crescendo arrives. It’s perhaps Old Man Gloom’s best-ever rendezvous of impact and economy, a union generally not favored by such indulgent explorers.
That’s the side of Old Man Gloom that arrives unfettered for the second set. The bulk of the disc was omitted from the more concise promotional tease; perhaps not coincidentally, it’s the half that renders The Ape of God essential. Everything that’s ever made Old Man Gloom captivating collides in these four tracks and 47 minutes. “A Hideous Nightmare Lie Upon the World” moves from a whirlpool of distortion and disembodied vocals into a tide of turgid doom. Scofield’s bass line is a menace, rebelling against Montano’s drumset like an angry stepchild; Newton and Turner’s guitars twist in and out of feedback-and-effects tangles, flipping between militant riffs and anarchist bedlam. Both “Predators” and “Arrows to Our Hearts” find Old Man Gloom playing hide-and-seek with the cores of their own songs, dividing the action between blown-out instrumental tangents and delightful detours. All Old Man Gloom albums have functioned in much that same way, but here, they mete the misdirection with new momentum. That is, though some of these songs last 14 minutes, they lag very little between start and finish.
There’s no better example, and no better moment on any Old Man Gloom album, than “Burden”, which opens set two. At large, it’s a punishing doom march, an unafraid parade toward an ever-widening abyss. But the quartet takes its time getting into formation, tinkering first with punishing feedback, static bursts, and riffs that seem to lampoon what’s coming next. For a work that lasts as long as many major motion pictures, The Ape of God mostly avoids monoliths, a consequence of Old Man Gloom’s varied interests. “Burden” is their one concession to the colossal. Extrapolated brilliantly for a quarter-hour, it’s a coup of force and focus.
Old Man Gloom revel in the disorienting. As early as their debut, they spotted unseen through-lines between disparate musical realms and raced along them. That very approach has made them a hard sale, because quantifying, categorizing, or controlling what they hoped to achieve seemed so difficult. But the context for their brand of ruthless patchwork has increased in recent years, as the borders of once-obdurate niches and subgenres have been bled. Old Man Gloom sound a little less outlandish than they once did, then, less like separatists in a stronghold of one than early adopters in a land of intrigue and opportunity. Following the band’s 2012 return with the fine but slight NO, The Ape of God—in all its two-volume, high-volume upheaval—reasserts their eminence in that field. And guess what, assholes? They didn’t need two albums to do it, but it’s hard to resent such brittle riches.
from Album Reviews – Pitchfork http://ift.tt/1APYQbw