The connection between music and religion is ancient—from choirs to chanting to straight-up gospel, humans habitually express their religious devotion in fervent meter. But I don’t believe in God, I believe in Om.
The connection between music and religion is ancient—from choirs to chanting to straight-up gospel, humans habitually express their religious devotion in fervent meter.
But I don’t believe in God, I believe in Om.
The band, though practicing the art of doom metal, makes use of this truism, playing heavy and repetitive riffs loudly as a simple two-piece. Distorted bass, drums and meditative chant. That’s it.
Imagine overly amplified Black Sabbath songs played by Gregorian monks who’ve read too many books on theoretical philosophy. And while that may sound awful, the curious truth is this: Seeing Om live is the closest thing I’ve had to a religious experience.
There’s something about the band’s music, the circular riffs played by Al Cisneros and the warm, enveloping distorted bass tone and the never-ending cascade of slowly enunciated words that gets to me, transcends my mind. It’s a visceral reaction to music that, though modern, feels primordial. Very few “metal” bands hook so effortlessly into that groove.
Just check out these lyrics from the opening track of Om’s 2008 album Pilgrimage, which are whisper chanted over a melodic bassline:
“Trumpeter sounds, a periphic dream, the cries now shorn as prelate falls and send away. Overture ‘mits forth, clarion sky, to sun she climbs and sheds her wings into the sea. Memories rise to obscurant orb, the astral causate forms dissolve and send away. Severance from illusory field the pilgrim wills to correspond with freedom.”
What the fuck does this any of this mean? (There’s a question.)
If the above phrasing was uttered by anyone else, I would laugh them off the stage. It’s awe-inspiring in its obtuseness. But still, the power persists. Belief in God or not, the commanding religious subtext in the sound that Om creates helps them rather than hinders.
Which brings me to my Om dilemma.
I don’t believe in God, I think of religion and any sort of metaphysical “spirituality” as bogus, much like human tails—something we’ve evolved away from and never should have had in the first place. But I like Om, despite the band’s near-obsession with a dense spiritual center.
Maybe it’s enough to just like the riffs. And I certainly have no problem separating other artists from their messages. Notorious BI.G. wrote some great songs, though his misogynistic outlook was troubling. I listen to punk bands, but usually find their politics insipid. But there’s something elementally religious in Om that I’ve accepted even though it confuses me.
This viewpoint has been an evolution for the group since their heyday in the ’90s metal band Sleep (Om was the rhythm section of that band up until drummer Chris Haikus was replaced by Portlander Emil Amos last year) and has been carefully distilled since Om’s inception in 2004.
Maybe it’s all a faux, played-up mysticism, though that doesn’t seem to be the case, as it feels very honest (another reason to like the band). Maybe it’s better that the band confuses me, making my experience just that more nuanced.
Friedrich Nietzsche once said that, “faith means not wanting to know what is true.”
Here’s something that’s true: Om is fucking good. In that, I have faith.