(Seattle-based writer Gonzo returns to NCS with this review of a new album by the star-studded Old Man Gloom, whose release day was accelerated by the band and Profound Lore Records and is out now.)
Never the types to be conventional, post-hardcore/sludge superheroes Old Man Gloom have again released not one, but two, new albums: Seminar VIII: The Lightness of Meaning, and Seminar IX: The Darkness of Being. Originally not scheduled to be released until May 22, the band decided to stagger the double effort with a surprise release of Seminar IX back in late March. Seminar VIII will keep its original release date of May 22.
To limit any head-spinning confusion, this review covers Seminar IX.
Confused yet? Good, me too.
All jabs aside, the band explained that the early release of IX was due to the fact that as of this writing, most of us are sitting around in our homes 24/7, and that a little new music might bring some light into an otherwise unnerving situation the world now faces. Fair enough, though it could be said that the distorted intensity of IX might be a more suitable soundtrack to the times we’re living in, rather than a respite from it.
Picking up where 2016’s The Ape of God left off, and forged in the emotional turmoil surrounding the tragic passing of bassist Caleb Scofield in 2018, Seminar IX is a record that smolders with the pain of processing grief. Stephen Brodsky’s vocals haven’t sounded quite like this since the early days of Cave-In, and the somber tone of the material here is the polar opposite of Brodsky’s frenetic punk antics in Mutoid Man. Brodsky has since joined the band as a full-time member of OMG, and though his addition was probably a no-brainer, his contributions are noticeable throughout Seminar IX.
As with past releases, OMG thrive on total, unpredictable chaos. Album opener “Procession of Death” pounds away at the same juggernaut riff for a good three solid minutes before Aaron Turner’s acid-soaked roar breaks the monotony. Distortion and knives of ear-splitting noise cut through “Heel to Toe” thereafter, setting the stage for “The Bleeding Sun” to burst out of nowhere to mercilessly throw you into the pit.
Similar to the way OMG approach their music, grief manifests itself in unpredictable, uncomfortable ways. It’s not always a processed, clinical path of “anger, denial, acceptance.” I’d even argue that it’s seldom that simple. Seminar IX doesn’t go out of its way to make you understand its pain, but the magnitude of the themes powers the music with a certain rawness that emanates throughout. Musically, that approach doesn’t always work, though — much of this album is mired by several jagged, noisy interludes that all but murder any build-up of momentum. “In Your Name” would probably rank with the most anthemic songs in the band’s catalog had it not been for the feedback solo that pops up in the middle of it.
The unexpected turns on IX continue from there, as Brodsky works his magic beautifully on the acoustic “Death Rhymes,” taking a stripped-down approach that reminds me of Austin Lunn’s solo work. It’s a mournful tribute to Scofield, and adds an unexpectedly soulful layer to the album. Paired against the angular riffs and the combined vocal ferocity of Turner and Brodsky (also my top bet for “names that sound like law firms”), “Death Rhymes” lays bare the emotions that Brodsky and his longtime friends are still struggling with, even as I’m typing this. The rawness and vulnerability of this record is really what powers it, beyond any riff, chorus or chord. And if this is just the first in a two-part release, we literally don’t know the half of what OMG put into it.
When all is said and done here, Seminar IX feels like a very raw, almost haphazard audial exercise in processing grief. And to that end, it works. But the resulting effect often feels unfinished, uneven, or misplaced. Too many promising ideas are stopped short of full development in favor of noisy, derailing interludes. Maybe when Seminar VIII sees its release in May, more of this will make sense, and we’ll see the bigger picture the band intended to show us in the first place.
OLD MAN GLOOM: