On May You Be Held, Sumac are a beast of free improvisation, noise, and metal | Music Review | Chicago Reader

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On May You Be Held, Sumac are a beast of free improvisation, noise, and metal


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There’s a lot of room in the vast and aesthetically diverse landscape of metal, but one powerhouse trio occupies its own sound-deconstructing universe: Sumac. The heady metal-centric music that guitarist and vocalist Aaron Turner (Isis, Old Man Gloom), bassist Brian Cook (Russian Circles), and drummer Nick Yacyshyn (Baptists) churn out is such a left-field beast that it smashes any and all classification. Their vision has gloriously mutated with each sprawling slab of heaviosity: on their 2015 debut, The Deal, 2016’s What One Becomes, and 2018’s Love in Shadow, Turner, Cook, and Yacyshyn have delved deeper each time into uncharted realms where the calculated brutality of metal and the mind-bending spirituality of free jazz meet. Now, galvanized by a pair of collaborations between Sumac and Japanoise titan Keiji Haino (and by the influence of sound explorers such as noise artist Daniel Menche and guitarist Tashi Dorji, both of whom have releases on Sige, the label Turner runs with his partner and Mamiffer bandmate Faith Coloccia), these deep-thinking brothers in arms sail further beyond the boundaries of extreme music with forward-looking abandon. May You Be Held is the sublime and deafening amalgam of Sumac’s guiding forces. Its five marathon tracks manifest the band’s omnivorous breadth in feasts of drone, doom, and sludge laced with free improv and noise freak-outs that channel the aforementioned Haino and Menche. Striking the perfect balance of cutthroat precision and spontaneous fire breathing, Sumac embrace the wild-eyed ecstasy of free jazz and come out with their own sonic language. Like the cosmic jazz of John and Alice Coltrane, the ghostly, hypnotic soundscapes of May You Be Held, such as feedback-belching opener “A Prayer for your Path” and the organ-driven “Laughter and Silence” (with guest keys by Coloccia), create a ritualistic atmosphere of spiritual uplift despite their dark overtones. Then there are the epic shredders. The 20-minute title track tops stadium-ready buzz-sawing riffs with Turner’s bloody-throated wails, while the 17-minute blitz of “Consumed” shape-shifts through batshit-crazy time signatures, hardcore-level fury, and lumbering doom and gloom. You might be tempted to call May You Be Held cosmic metal, if anything, but ultimately Sumac are a genre unto themselves.   v

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