Om - Biography
The brevity of the name Om isn’t an indication of the colossally meditative drone music that the duo makes, but it’s a salient pointer of the Tibetan style chanting they’ve grown known for. Originally comprised of former Sleep rhythm section members Al Cisneros (bass, guitar, vocals) and Chris Hakius (drums), Om eschews the epic stoner rock drone of their previous incarnations for an inwardly brooding doom metal with monastic underpinnings. Since beginning in 2003, the band has released four studio albums as well as a pair of live albums—one of which contained portions of Om’s five-hour performance in Jerusalem on the aptly titled, Om: Live at Jerusalem (2008 Southern Lord). Shortly thereafter, in January of 2008, Hakius left Om while on an East Coast leg of a tour, and Emil Amos, formerly of Grails and Holy Sons, has since taken his spot.
Having been heralded as the rhythm section of northern California stoner rock outfit Sleep, San Francisco-based Cisneros and Hakius came together with a common mission to work “the songs within” and externalize them as a vehicle into deeper pastures. To keep it minimalist and less convoluted, they thought that the best way to achieve that was to remain a duo and play their own instruments, interacting as a dialogue between instruments. It was a Siddhartha-esque approach to capture something constant and ever-present and shaping it into accessible containment.
Their first album, the three-track Variations on a Theme (2005 Holy Mountain), achieved the feat enough that one reviewer wrote, “you could found a religion based on this sort of music.” The roiled sludge of Sleep was replaced by transcendent passages of bass-and-drum throb and drone, and it was a genre-splitting metal adventure with spiritual high regards, with Billy Anderson working as the producer.
In 2006, Om returned with Conference of the Birds (Load Records), which was two lengthy tracks—“At Giza” and “Flight of the Edge”—reaching over 33 minutes. The repetitive, mantra-like progression of the songs made for a deeper experience between band and listener, sung in chant-like delivery by Cisneros and pushed along by the prominent bass. Om followed that up with a much-revered collaborative EP split with Current 93, Inerrant Rays of Infallible Sun, released on Neurot as a 10” vinyl with only 1,500 copies pressed. Shortly thereafter they released another split EP, this one with Six Organs of Admittance called Bedouin’s Vigil (Holy Mountain).
Though Conference of the Birds raised eyebrows critically, it was the band’s Southern Lord debut—the Steve Albini-produced Pilgrimage (2007)—that was chosen as Mojo magazine’s “Underground Album of the Year.” The four-song release was called a “mental wipe out” by one reviewer for its groundbreaking achievement in forming a new, pummeling kind of chant music, a more brutal western approach to the sacrosanct.
In late 2007, Hakius and Cisneros made their own pilgrimage to Jerusalem, and played Club Uganda for a five-hour set, which was recorded and later released abridged on Southern Lord as Om — Live in Jerusalem. The two tracks—the nearly 22-minute “Flight of the Eagle” and “Bhima’s Theme”—showcased the duo’s ability to carry an audience on their perception-cleansing odysseys.
After Hakius left Om and Amos was brought aboard, the new duo released a single on Seattle’s Sub Pop Records called Gebel Barkal (2008), named after a stark Sudanese mountain along the Nile. They would return with their next long-player in the form of 2009’s God Is Good (Drag City), which was again produced by Albini and recorded at Electrical Audio in Chicago. The 19-minute opening track “Thebes” added the dimension of sitar to the celestial forces of Cisneros’ chants and the foundation of burly bass and drums.
While performing together as Om, both active members still have other projects they are working on. Cisneros is part of the outfit Shrinebuilder with Scott Kelly (Neurosis) and Wino (Obsessed, Hidden Hand), while Amos continues his work with Grails.