Old Man Gloom is a shadow of its former self. Massive shifts in a band’s artistic path can make or break it with very little wiggle room in between. Old Man Gloom being first and foremost a side project, one of many between all of its members in fact, is given much more leeway. Lower investment means lower expectations on return which mean a listener gets what he or she gets whether it was requested or not. At first we got a modest two-man project — Isis’ Aaron Turner and drummer Santos Montano — which deconstructed Isis’ expansive riffage into short brutal tantrums and its existential lyrical themes into absurdist, primate-centric science fiction. With the addition of Cave In’s Caleb Scofield and Converge’s Nate Newton, OMG become more sonically robust and less creatively homogenous. Christmas, the third album with this lineup, was their most fully realized effort, so much so that it almost felt like a real band — until nothing happened for eight years.
In the interim wars raged, markets tanked, Bush left office, I left college, and the bands from which these fellows sought refuge were heavily engaged in some impressive “winning streaks.” Simply put, I forgot about Old Man Gloom, having jettisoned them along with The Icarus Line and Orchid as products of a more innocent time. Now is the time of Mastodon after all, so why bother? Then again, why the fuck not?
After a full presidential term, OMG’s cohesion remains basically unchanged if not stronger on NO, but with the passage of time and the shifts in extreme music, we return to OMG noticing more what is not present: bigness. Metal in the last few years as succumbed to ambition many times over, cramming in as much drama, complexity and depth as one can in one hour. By contrast, NO is refreshingly low concept, trading drama for urgency, complexity for savagery, and depth for eccentricity.
Back are the unadorned noisescapes, the no man’s lands between muscular art-metal anthems (the best, “Regain/Rejoin,” “To Carry the Flame,” and “The Forking Path”) come in quick succession like swift blows to the ribcage. Lyrically the album is less concept driven, encapsulating moods over narratives, but such is the condition of having at least three songwriters. A standout though is Newton’s powerhouse “Rats,” with its chant-heavy misanthropy: “Mother Nature’s cruelest trick/Gorge ourselves until we’re sick/Human tapeworms, human ticks/We’re no different don’t forget.” Back, too, is Kurt Ballou’s audio vérité production, which, like Steve Albini’s work, is the method of choice for bands wanting to maximize aggression and raw songcraft and little else. Also notable is the stark visual concept: a Xerox collage cover with surreal black and white illustrations (provided by Turner and Faith Coloccia) within.
Old Man Gloom started life as an anti-Isis, over time it morphed into the anti-Mastodon, naked and uncivilized, impatient with mysticism and less forgiving of asinine human behavior. In many ways it inherits the legacy of Cable, one of the most uncompromising hardcore bands of any period, if not exactly picking up where it left off at Gutter Queen. Still, assuming Old Man Gloom keeps getting picked back up when time allows they’ll have more idiosyncrasies to work through and more hopes to crush. After all, they’re touring “just in time for the collapse of the global economy.”
Stream: Old Man Gloom – “Common Species”