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Old Man Gloom - Christmas

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Artist: Old Man Gloom

Album: Christmas

Label: Tortuga

Review date: Nov. 4, 2004

You know the drill: Drop-tuned guitars, howling, digitally-distorted vocals and street punk ethos ain’t exactly the newest sound in the underground. Listening to Old Man Gloom’s Christmas, it’s easy to picture black Carhart clad dirtbags playing through blown-out Orange amps. What would these guys be up to if they hadn’t heard Neurosis?

Yet, as purveyors of old fashioned doom-core, Old Man Gloom are solid. Members of Converge, Cave In and Jesuit give them instant cred among a legion of under-twenty-somethings. OMG’s brand of uber-heavy sludge metal and tripped out ambient jams isn’t wholly original, but it‘s primal and menacing enough.

Lyrically, Christmas deals with your standard apocalyptic omens - religious warfare and the decay of human civilization are the album’s prominent subjects, not all that different from the themes of Godspeed You! Black Emperor. In fact, when OMG mellow out, their acoustic guitar interludes and grainy, overcast ambience could easily find a home on the Constellation records roster. Songs like “Valhalla“, with its creepy, out-of-tune organ and spectral, acoustic guitars evoke similar emotions to the Canadian miserablists, but it’s OMG’s addiction to Kyuss style riff-mongering puts an end to any other comparisons.

Metal is often viewed as unsophisticated, and its players musically immature. While this is certainly true of a lot of groups, Old Man Gloom seem determined to prove that Mack-truck size guitars and pummeling drums can be used for more than the relief of adolescent stress. Other bands such as Swans and Neurosis may have already done most of the work in mapping out avant-metal terrain, but OMG carry on the tradition of intelligent and noisy nihilism quite well. The cut “Accord-O-Matic” twists like a serpent, its scuzzy bass line joined in the verses by guitar punishment reminiscent of The Melvins at their most bloodthirsty. Yet even in full-on assault mode, OMG favor discordant guitar tags and unconventional rhythms.

The ambient textures on Christmas showcase a team willing to explore mood without motion, but the pieces sound a little out of place in the context of the album. Groups like SunnO))) are far better suited to this kind of blend. Perhaps it’s time for OMG to throw away their Neurosis albums and have a hard look at how best to incorporate their skin-'em-alive metal assaults into more thoughtful, fluid compositions.

By Casey Rae-Hunter

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