After three full-length studio albums and two impressive collaborations with legendary Japanese guitar-torturer (in a good way) extraordinaire Keiji Haino, post metal trio Sumac were well set on the path to create yet another perplexing record. May You Be Held, the powerhouse trio’s most recent release, epitomizes a steady amount of their previous work while covering uncharted territory, further elevating Sumac’s dynamic array of styles and technical and artistic capabilities. Then again, one would expect no less from an experimental supergroup that culminates from the performative expertise of vocalist/guitarist Aaron Turner (ISIS, Old Man Gloom), bassist Brian Cook (Russian Circles), and drummer Nick Yacyshyn (Baptists).
Clocking in at just under an hour of total runtime laid out over the course of five tracks that interlock with each other quite neatly, May You Be Held is absolutely not an album for the impatient. Sumac have devoted themselves to ensure each track takes the due time to build up the necessary momentum before eventually transitioning into a sludgy spectacle of unrelenting turmoil, leaving the listener room enough to relish every instance of the album on their own accord. Like a long road in which tight turns and straight lanes strive alike, we’re provided with beautiful interplay between peaceful yet obscure passages and fury-ridden arrangements.
‘A Prayer for Your Path’ works wonders as an eerie, atmospheric slow burner featuring chilling instrumentation accompanied by Turner’s distant, raw screams. These five introductory minutes set the stage for the title track ‘May You Be Held’ which can be best described as a transcending twenty-minute odyssey of untamed chaos contrasted with controlled dissonances. Don’t be fooled though, even though twenty minutes might seem like an eternity for newcomers to the sludge/post-metal genre, it flies by quicker than imaginable. Either by using a combination of cyclical, hypnotizing sounds, or by incorporating progressive patterns between sections to throw you off guard, it proves a point of Sumac’s resiliency and ability to manipulate and pull the listener toward their hostile, yet magnetizing sound.
The middle track, ‘The Iron Chair’, released previously as a single, takes on a different approach. Here, we’re welcomed by the screeches of a guitar, later on joined by abstract drum patterns that, by reimbursing key elements of free-form jazz and odd time signatures, offer a dynamic range of ominous noise.
The follow-up ‘Consumed’ is the band’s master class on tension building. All the pieces being gradually brought into the mix are worked in such a way that none of them ever feel disjointed or unnecessary. The final minutes of the track, to put it simply, portray one of the most ecstatic moments in the music industry this year – the raging strings that become increasingly distorted; the thumping, technically impressive percussion segments by Yacyshyn; the arresting, guttural vocals. It’s all there.
Closing this monumental journey is ‘Laughter and Silence’, in which the drums are reduced to the faint splashes of cymbals here and there, allowing for an ambience controlled by drone-infused sounds to set in.
Even in all its glory, May You Be Held still feels like a record that won’t be done true justice until experienced live, in the sonically well-equipped environment it genuinely deserves. The sheer scale and power held within the record is impressive, but somewhat strained by its physical limitations. For the time being, however, the studio version will surely suffice.
Order May You Be Held on Bandcamp.